Uproxx Premieres Alela Diane’s Fifth Full-Length Album, Cusp
Acclaimed artist discusses weight and beauty of motherhood on new album
Celebrated folk singer Alela Diane is exploring new territory – especially in music. It’s a seemingly unspoken taboo: Have a baby if you must. But for goodness’ sake, don’t write songs about it. Uproxx premiered Cusp today, Alela’s new album exploring her perspective as a mother and woman. Cusp is released via AllPoints, and available on CD, vinyl and digitally on Friday, February 9.
Written in a cabin in the woods, Cusp discusses the weight and beauty of creating life. Its release this month marks exactly one year since the near-death, new-life experience of having her second daughter.
“I hope that by exploring motherhood in song, I can help demand respect for the life givers we are,” she said.
Cusp was born during Alela’s three-week artist residency at Caldera in Oregon during January 2016. Alela had found little time to create, consumed with her then two-year-old daughter. Alone for the first time since becoming a mother, she rediscovered how to be on her own, and wrote songs. Early in her Caldera stay, she broke her thumbnail while shoveling snow, and her signature finger-picking guitar became a challenge. She transitioned to the grand piano in the main lodge, resulting in the most piano-driven album of her career. The week the album was set to be mixed, she went into labor – five weeks early. Severe complications ensued, and she almost died while giving birth to her daughter.
“Life and death meet in a cusp,” Alela said. “The two are intrinsically linked. My second daughter was born on the cusp.”
The album may be a thematic departure, but Alela’s observant writing and clear voice weave throughout the album. Recorded mostly at Flora Playback and Recording, the album was produced by Peter M. Murray and mixed by Noah Georgeson, with contributions from heavyweights including Ryan Francesconi (Joanna Newsom), Rob Burger (Iron & Wine), Peter Broderick, Heather Woods Broderick (Sharon Van Etten), Luke Ydstie (Blind Pilot), and Daniel Hunt (Neko Case).
Album opener “Albatross” bemoans the pain of leaving her daughter behind for a promotional tour––a heartache she’d never experienced. “Move Us Blind” delves into our complicated relationship with time, while “Buoyant”––which Alela says “surprised her”––is rich with the vivid imagery her loyal listeners have come to expect. “Song for Sandy” was written for British singer Sandy Denny who died shortly after the birth of her daughter. Triggered by the drowned Syrian toddler who washed up on a Turkish shore, Alela penned the haunting “Emigré” in response to the international refugee crisis. Moody “Never Easy” tackles Alela’s complex relationship with her own mother, a recurring theme throughout her albums. Paste Magazineremarked that “Ether & Wood” wraps you up in a blanket of gentle guitar strums and robust piano chords.”
While her music speaks fiercely for itself, Alela also hopes it prompts discussions about what we expect from women artists. “As women, our music is sold based on our sex-appeal,” she says. “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.”
In the end, Cusp provokes those questions as it honors days left behind, embraces the complexity of today, and explores hope for what’s to come. “A song can start out a certain way and then grow into itself, change, and become something you didn’t expect it to be,” she said. So can a woman.