I was a little surprised to find that there actually was a Wikipedia page on Portland’s Haley Henderickx who in March of this year furnished her first full LP, the stripped-down Sharon Van Etten-approximating I Need to Start a Garden.
Also being a guy and searching for this girl it’s hard not to see that she’s quite the little dime: mysterious looking with brunette bangs but with a slender, rounded face and shapely thighs in shorts, in her main Google picture.
Appropriate enough, the album opener “No Face” seems to be about what to do when a guy goes totally ga-ga over you, sort of like Beach House’s “Walk in the Park” or “Better Times,” each of which being a second-person sort of breakup song type thing. These sort of reverse-kissoffs are certainly an interesting development in music, the earliest one I can remember being Liz Phair’s “Strange Loop”: “I always wanted you / I always wanted more than I knew”, hence completing the trifecta of attractive women in this equation, I guess, the “strangeness” then apparently fertilizing from the self containing these uncontrollable or paradoxical distastes which render immoral what shouldn’t be. It’s like Peace Alliance founder Marianne Williamson once said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate… Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”. Elsewhere on I Need to Start a Garden Heynderickx (how’s that spelling for a “friending” determent) asks “Is it the bridge between worlds that makes you feel alone?”, then at least, within all of the emotional devastation, at least giving the listener some sense of her impetus behind plucking out this singer/songwriter cafe ambience: her perception of the “doors” in life that need opening, the metaphysical space between all of us, like The Beatles might have said on “Within You without You.”
This all makes perfect sense as well, especially since the swooning acoustic slurs on “No Face” resemble the accompaniment doodling on “Blackbird,” and in general I Need to Start a Garden plays perfectly as a composite of music Kurt Cobain would have really liked, taking the sort of serenely melancholy shape of some twee pop or Marine Girls songs, and again, with a vocal very much resembling Sharon Van Etten, which I think we can all agree is a plus. It’s possible that there’s a certain West Coast freedom, too, to how these songs are being structured: the project feels very free and rustic, unencumbered by male hands and by convention as well, in general. Guitar tone on seven-minute epic “Worth it” is deeply melancholy and beautiful, then giving way to a spotlighted, dramatic little vocal with ambient, arhythmic guitar, only to plunge back into a folk rock groove somewhat like a Kurt Vile & the Violators track might. Again, the lyrics take on a theme of a sort of death within a life, the singer mockingly calling out to a would-be lover: “Pretty soon you can / Put me in a box / Boy / And call me anything you like” (I’m hoping people actually grasp that this is sarcasm and not an actual Deerhunter or Pavement-like agoraphobia). The real achievement of “Worth it,” though, trumping all the others, is again the sense of freeness that this music has, Heynderickx able to reel off little rhythmic musical tricks on her guitar like little triplet blips here and there and tempo changes, which drag and heave the opus into a sort of incessant flux almost reminiscent of The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” (love being the drug here, in this case). Indeed, this is seven minutes that goes by like four, and Heynderickx’ canary-like croons (“ooh-ooh”) in mid song are thoroughly animalistic in their hypnotic quality, setting her up like a Fiona Apple who of course by New York standards is very “folksy.” But again, this is refreshing, the freeness, the scoffing at male hands, the untouched and pure aspects of this rustic music.
Side b of I Need to Start a Garden, which finds Heynderickx settling into a sort of methodical melancholy like Van Etten tends to on Epic, will illustrate a couple of things about this artist, one being that Heynderickx almost finds it easier to douse these songs in countless, numerous and confusing (but refreshing) tempo changes than she does to sit still, and also her curious refusal to introduce themes of “gardens” into the lyrics, despite the fact that this image is produced in the album’s title. If I have a complaint about “Untitled God Song,” even though I’m not a religious person myself, it’s that the production is so good that it’s rendered a kind of electronic sacrilege, as if machines hath usurped the ability of unquantifiable spirit in the world, or something. But obviously that’s kind of random. Zak Kimball is credit with production on Discogs.
Wow, I actually just HEARD “Oom Sha La La” on a BBC broadcast streamed which had been billed as a Kamasi Washington and actually was for about 20 minutes of the three-hour sound bite, and they’d erroneously dubbed “Oom Sha La La” a Lauren Laverne song, a diva without even an album out yet. Eh, I guess they’re busy people, at least apparently. “Oom Sha La La” is a great song with — obviously — appeal as a radio single. Interestingly, as well, it takes a depressing turn, bringing up the subject of “The gap between (her) teeth” and claiming boldly that “The brink of my existence / Essentially is a comedy”, maladies of course delivered with the requisite nonchalance we’ve come to expect from Portland doomsayers like Modest Mouse and Blitzen Trapper. “Drinking Song” is then a disappointment for the fact that nobody could play this drunk: once again it displays considerable chops on the acoustic guitar, with tight riff changes bound as tightly as a baseball on to each other, and an overall sense of rhythm which shows no flaws whatsoever. In general, I Need to Start a Garden, for all the lyrical shambles and deep, calamitous mourning, is an album put together with fine craft, the technical skill which abounds then taking the natural shape of rhapsodic, major-chord blues.