Album: Madeline Kenney – Sucker’s Lunch review

By Paddy Kinsella

A musician’s musician is a category that Oakland’s Madeline Kenney could well fall under – more appreciated, for now at least, by her peers than the general public. Let’s face it, press releases from artists her size rarely come affixed with quotes from Bon Iver and Sylvan Esso.

The producer of one of our favourites from 2020, A.O Gerber’s Another Place to Need, Kenney’s meticulosity is a joy to behold on this, her third solo record. Indeed, it feels like she has an army of workers at her every whim, her arm dizzyingly thrusting in different directions to lay down this brick, and that brick in order to build a prevailing mood; the feeling of being cut loose. That skill is what her peers envy most: ‘If you want to put an album on and have it carry you up, like a helicopter with blades that look and feel like grass, but are as solid as steel…that carry you up over yourself, play this record,’ writes Justin Vernon.

It’s a record that rarely breaks sweat. Its intermingling of brass and field recordings resembles a cosmic flight gliding gracefully through deep space. Throughout Kenney sings with the nonchalance of a business executive flicking fluff off their shoulder; her voice and the accompanying instruments always achieving equilibrium, never indulging in a scrap for dominance. Her aptitude for creating a mood, however, does not deprive the album off left turns. The chorus of White Window Light, a lush, dense sea of harmonies provided by none other than Boy Scouts and the aforementioned A.O Gerber, for example, ends with the emergence of a fidgety guitar line, vaulting out of calm waters like a shark fin circling beach revellers. Cut the Real is another intriguing left turn; built with all the sturdiness of a spider’s web, we are flies to its blinding iridescence.

The owner of her own record label, Copper Mouth Records, there are few that know the industry nitty gritty like Kenney. And Sucker, a song about how artists continue to make art in a world where the returns are less and less, is perhaps the album’s heart. This glutton-for-punishment-status of musicians today is held to the light in all its hideousness. It’s a demoralising career reflection which concludes with Kenney downing her seventh cup of coffee and declaring ‘I’m a sucker’. She knows her fate though, even as she looks on with envy at her brother and his forty acres and a mule – ‘When all is said and done / I’ll make another,’ she sings. Faceless Spotify executives may not be grateful, but if Sucker’s Lunch is a sign of what’s come to next, we certainly are.

Secret Meeting score: 77

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