The fifth five of Her Harbour’s second album, Go Gently Into the Night, is titled “Memento Mori,” Latin for “remember death.” Even without a track title such as that, it’s difficult to not have death on the mind as you listen to this album. Beyond the death-alluding album title and the frequent references to it in the lyrics, Go Gently Into the Night sounds like death personified. Every piano note played and every syllable voiced by Gabrielle Giguere feels like it’s possessed and able to possess you at moment’s notice.
Album standout “Hewing Crowns” kicks things off. It wraps you into the murky environment, with Giguere sounding akin to a more gothic Angel Olsen. “Sheared skin and old fur/Sorcerer could conjure demon in anything” she sings against somber piano. If you cannot stand the piano on this track, then you are going to have difficulty with the rest of the album, as that one of the main things tying the songs together. Giguere is not a flashy performer. However, this works to her benefit, as she is able to summon the vitality out of every syllable she sings, making her one of the best female singer/songwriters making music right now.
On “Hewing Crowns,” she makes a particular dark declaration with “you conjure demon in me” and goes on to say “your baths are drawn from my tears.” It is intensely immersive stuff that summons you to see what else drives Giguere. As the album progresses, her vocals get more and more naked. On “In Nude, In Fog and River,” her voice is particularly pained, sounding like she would need to bite her lip to keep it from quivering. “Below Breaths” mixes lower register hums with shimmering guitar strums as Giguere coyly asks “What’s killing you darling?” “Chim and Knell” is particularly teasing, with a two-note piano motif that seemingly serves to put the listener in Giguere’s obsessive headspace as she sings about a love diminished, if not quite lost.
The death in the album doesn’t seem to be just that of a specific physical loss. With lyrics like “The spring is a cruel time/a thousand bodies become the soil again to feed new life,” it seems Giguere is most fascinated by the cycles that must exist. On the morbidly-titled “Death Mask,” she sings “In the time I’ve lived here, I’ve watched a tree grow.” It comes towards the end of the album, and it’s the kind of sentiment that gives you some hope. If everything must eventually die, then we should appreciate it for when it’s alive. An additionally intriguing aspect of the album is how Giguere appears to be commanding nature on the tracks. On “Memento Mori” she urges the “juniper and cypress tree” to “lay [someone] down and don’t be cruel,” and another track is titled “Come Half Moon.” She might know it’s futile, but she wants to try nonetheless.
The somber nature of Go Gently Into the Night makes it simultaneously relaxing and unsettling. The ambient nature of Giguere’s arrangements and her soft vocals might help you drift off into sleep. However, there is a sense of urgency in how she presents everything. It’s an album that doesn’t bark at you to sit up and listen but beckons you with the sincerity of its message. If you have space in your music heart for a little existentialism, give Go Gently Into the Night a listen.
Key Tracks: Below Breaths, Memento Mori, Death Mask