Alela Diane explores motherhood on Cusp

CuspThere has always been a medicinal quality to Alela Diane's music, specifically her voice, but on Cusp she takes the cathartic elements of her work and pairs them with another comforter: the theme of motherhood. The new studio album from the Portland-based singer-songwriter approaches the taboo of female musicians addressing their children through song, as Diane begins an emotionally charged conversation that complements the quieter, more reflective moments of her repertoire.

The album opens with "Albatross", which for all intents and purposes is a typical Alela Diane song: there are soaring, Midwestern vocals touched by folk and the blues, and a narrative that focuses on passing time and travel. But instead of reminiscing about long lost lovers (About Farewell) or the demons that affect those around her (Alela Diane & Wild Divine), this time she's forlorn about leaving her children - one born in 2013, and another more recently in February 2017 - behind to fulfill her duties as a working mother. The sentiment echoes throughout Cusp and acts as a platform from which Diane can reassess her world: from the difficult yet still loving relationship she has with her own mother ("Never Easy") to the strife mothers around the world have suffered as a consequence of the refugee crisis ("Emigré").

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Another key difference to previous work is that this album is piano-led; the product of a broken thumbnail during the writing process which stalled Diane's usual finger-plucking ways. The change in instrumentation transforms Cusp and brings a delicate, lullaby-esque aura that supports the cathartic, loving nature of the songs. "Song for Sandy" is a beautiful example of this soothing tone; an ode dedicated to Fairport Convention's Sandy Denny, who died shortly after giving birth to her baby girl in 1978.

In interview as in song, Diane is not candid about Cusp's theme of motherhood: "This music is about motherhood. Even just by saying that, it feels like people will write you off. As women, our music is sold based on our sex-appeal. There’s a lack of spaces for women to move into that aren’t based on appearance. Those are conversations I’m interested in having.” Though this statement is certainly true, motherhood feels like a natural progression for Diane, and these songs seamlessly slip into her back-catalogue. Cusp is a touching contribution and a record that adds another layer to the musician's career, but it perhaps doesn't make the impactful statement Alela Diane intended - it's simply too delicate.

Release: 9th February 2018, AllPoint
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