In recent years, two labels have stood out as the greatest representatives of quality Americana: Paradise of Bachelors for ‘band’ Americana, and Mama Bird for ‘solo’ Americana. When I discovered that I Need To Start A Garden was being released by the latter, I immediately thought: “This is their breakthrough act”. Mama Bird has released a lot of good or great records, but all generally with a quite traditional, classic touch.
None, so far, has had the urgency and the sense of contemporaneity Haley Heynderickx’s debut album has. Being based in Pacific Northwest, where some of the most important “new Americana” signatures have emerged since the last decade, is a first hint of the connection between I Need To Start A Garden and today’s music.
This record is actually a perfect bridge between Mama Bird former material and contemporary Americana. There is as much of Laurel-inspired Alela Diane as there is of electric-based, morose Angel Olsen. Most importantly, I Need To Start A Garden has an inner strength that far surpasses what its title might suggest. Songwriting in this record is as solid as it is intense, and this is the backbone that other upfront acts lack (Julien Baker, Angel Olsen herself, Sharon Van Etten). ‘No Face’ and ‘The Bug Collector’ are memorable tracks from the strictly melodic point of view, but the songwriting mastery of Haley does extend on all dimensions.
There are bold, even reckless numbers such as the overlong, torrential tirade of ‘Worth It’, an emphatic country-blues, but what emerges in the end is the control that Haley exercises on her music, together with her band. The overall sound is pure Pacific Northwest (for those who know them, Norfolk & Western come to mind), it has that pure and beautiful use of empty spaces, but also of sudden collective ruckus. It’s the sound of something that knows life, and comprises a lot of different emotions with a slightly dusted, worn filter. Contamination is always lurking about, as power-pop/folk-rock ‘Oom Sha La La’ proves, with its strangely diminishing chorus progression and the Kevin Morby/Lou Reed vibes.
At the same time, there are also conventional, very classic tracks (‘Untitled God Song’, ‘Drinking Song’ are pure Mama Bird material), or more strictly impressionistic, emotional tracks (‘Show You A Body’) where arrangements and performance make the difference (which is something not to overlook when talking about Americana). Some will recall Robin Pecknold’s imposing figure as singer/songwriter when listening to Haley’s ‘Jo’. This is a parallel that Haley Heynderickx can stand without any problem, and she is already a very good contender as “rookie of the year”, at least in the contemporary songwriting scene.
Words: Lorenzo Righetto