Album Review: “Departure and Farewell” by Hem

Jacqueline Kim


For a band as low-key as Hem, seven years is much too long to go without releasing another album. Even after winning a Drama Desk Award for its compositions in a production of “Twelfth Night” starring Anne Hathaway, the band kept up its lengthy hiatus until now. The result of this standstill is not, however, a drastic departure from the band’s usual fare of melancholy indie folk. Instead, “Departure and Farewell” continues Hem’s tradition of gentle, warm melodies, a perfect musical helpmate for the band’s signature literate lyrics.

Though Hem has promised that the album won’t be their last, it’s difficult not to see “Departure and Farewell” as an ode to goodbyes. The album begins with an eponymous track with lead singer Sally Ellyson — the vocal doppelganger of whimsical artist Rosie Thomas — repeating the verse, “And I am gone… / So long, my love.” The theme carries on even in the album’s true standout “Tourniquet,” with its visual poetry echoing the band’s period of inactivity: “Oh Brooklyn, your bridges are bound up in light/ Every artery’s clogged as you pull the belt tight/ And this tourniquet turns even tighter until/ …/ We come to a standstill.”

Unfortunately, the quiet, idyllic beauty of Hem’s music and lyrics in “Departure and Farewell” gets quite repetitious. Too often, its tracks sound like mere variations of one another, though perhaps for this reason, it is the perfect album to wind down a busy day. Nonetheless, it is a great place for Hem to wave goodbye to its hiatus and say hello to writing more tunes — perhaps ones bolder than their usual fare.