You know what pop’s like these days; singers sounding identical, their voices lacking any engaging or distinguishing quality. Sometimes, however, a voice comes across as so effortless, so natural, so possessive of a quality that could never, ever be taught. Laura Marling, Sharon van Etten and the Söderberg sisters of First Aid Kit all possess this trait, and so does Alela Diane.
Throughout her fifth record, About Farewell, Diane’s voice is arresting, delicate and powerful, and coupled with songs that at times seem so personal it’s hard to imagine that she ever really intended them to be heard by other people. Gossipy though it may be of us to suggest, this feeling of authenticity and privacy perhaps stems from Diane’s divorce from guitarist Tom Bevitori, who collaborated with her on several songs on her 2011 record Alela Diane & Wild Divine. Following in the footsteps of innumerable classic break up albums, the album delves into her experiences, making for a hugely powerful work, both lyrically and musically.
Diane doesn’t do anything groundbreaking with the concept of the break up album, using swelling violins on ‘Lost Land’ precisely to tug at one’s heartstrings for example, but there’s something about her stark truthfulness that proves to be really rather disarming. The record’s title track, with the lyrics “Seven years to you, dear heart, is all that I can give/And I know that without me you’ll find just what you need”, reinforces the feeling that the listener is almost intruding on her private thoughts. Fittingly, her voice loses some of its restrain, just ever so slightly, towards the end of the song, reflecting perfectly the raw emotion that is being channelled into the lyrics. Remarkably, however, the delicacy with which the subject matter is handled means that it is not an uncomfortable listen, something that is true for much of the record, even with the frankness that comes through in many of the tracks. ‘Nothing I Can Do’ is a simple song that begins as just vocals and guitar but gains significantly more depth as it proceeds – throughout, she repeats the refrain “Honey there is nothing I can do to save you” until it’s revealed she is trying to save the subject from himself.
While Diane is not the first songwriter to use a breakup as inspiration for their music, and certainly won’t be the last, she has managed to create something quite beautiful out of the demise of her marriage. Her brutal honesty draws the listener in to her pain, making for some slightly uncomfortable moments, almost as if you’ve stumbled across someone’s private diary. But her ability to craft songs that are both delicate and incredibly powerful, along with her stunning, effortless voice prevent the honesty from being alienating.