Sometimes a title is all you need to understand an album. Jason Mraz’s Love is a Four Letter Word or John Fullbright’s From The Ground Up or the beautifully titled Rappalachia by bluegrass/hip-hop group Gangstagrass. With their first album in years, Hem has done that same thing. Departure and Farewell is an album written to say goodbye. It’s not a break up album; it’s an “I’m moving on from this” album.
This Brooklyn folk group immediately calls to mind the fantastic Over The Rhine and that should be a welcome comparison. The combination of beautiful song writing and female lead vocals lends power to these emotional and raw songs. From the first song, the title track, it’s obvious that this album is not the kind to listen to with the windows down on a hot summer day. This is an introspective, thoughtful album and one that should be enjoyed as such.
The piano intro on the title track sets the tone for this album immediately. The repeated line “where I am gone” is a haunting mantra that refuses to leave your mind as you listen to the album. The song hits its crescendo with “I’ll find a way to say to you, ‘So long, my love. so long, my love.'” But perhaps the most impactful part is the final verse, sung softly and over almost no music. “I’m pulling back,/ the world expands,/ And I am gone.”
“The Seed” and “The Jack Pine” are two traditional folk songs with great guitar parts and amazing harmonies. While separate tracks, they belong together and it’s nearly impossible to listen to them separately. “The Tides at the Narrows” is a song that’s full of personification, predominantly using the moon and the river as the objects performing for the song. It’s a beautifully written song with an amazing set of guitar parts as accompaniment.
The album’s second to last song, “Last Call”, is a beautifully melancholy song that equates, rather eloquently, the ideas of last call and the end of a relationship. When you finally hear, “I’ll drink to all I thought I could be,/ I’ll drink to you and me./ I’ll get so high so I can see”, you get the sense that this album has closed a chapter on a stage of the band’s career. It’s as if, after this album, things will have to be different. It’s an amazingly emotional journey to get to take and Hem leads us beautifully through some difficult feelings with ease. Take the time to enjoy this album properly and you won’t be disappointed.