Secret Meeting score: 85
by Joseph Purcell
A defining feature of the musical landscape in 2017 was the number of emerging female artists who created albums of intense emotion, filled with majestic vocals and powerful lyrics. Nadia Reid, Julie Byrne, Aldous Harding and Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker, to name a few, left a lasting impression with spellbinding festival slots and captivated audiences in their path.
I Need to Start a Garden from promising Portland songstress, Haley Heynderickx, is one of the most intriguing and encompassing debuts of the year so far. An album drawing on spirituality, existence and life’s intricacies, she floats effortlessly through the 31 minutes, displaying beautiful melodies intertwined with tenacious vocal bursts of passion. Heynderickx describes her own songs as ‘doom folk’ and gently fluctuates between musings over the most insignificant detail, before suddenly wrestling with the biggest questions – life’s meaning, God’s existence and the purpose of mankind.
Heynderickx sights several influences. She has spoken about how she was absorbed by Jimi Hendrix growing up, after being spellbound by his unique guitar style. She has also referenced The Beatles’ Blackbird and Bob Dylan, but not all are founded in music. Heynderickx grew up in a religious household, identifying closely with her Filipino roots while equally encompassed by the mixing pot of cultural identities in America. All these influences are present in I Need to Start A Garden, forming the basis for Heynderickx to create her bewitching descants of self-reflective exploration.
Album opener No Face, is a track that sees Heyndreckx cast a spell on the listener with her exquisitely pitched vocal, both serenading and conveying the extreme emotion with which she performs. The Bug Collector follows quickly, sauntering and smouldering over a sultry finger-picked guitar. I Need to Start a Garden continues to build through Jo, a jangling song about love and connection, displaying the incredible range of Heyndreckx voice as it soars to a point of vulnerability, becoming so fragile that it almost seems as though it is about to break, but never does.
The centre piece comes in the shape of Worth it – an eight-minute sprawling composition built around a bluesy guitar riff that sees the song lurch from gloomy depths to shrieks of euphoria. Worth it is a rolling opus of vocal crescendos that perfectly display Heyndreckx’s incredible vocal dexterity – a great insight into a a blossoming talent that may well be in it for the long haul. The song travels from lines of contemplation ‘maybe I’ve been selfish’ to an upbeat stomper with hollers of ‘I need you there’. At the midpoint, Heyndreckx evokes Horses-era Patti Smith, rebelling against those who cast her into the earlier soul searching as she now declares with venom and tenacity – ‘Put me in a box, put me in a line, call me anything you want boy’. Worth it again transforms itself into a hymn-like trance with soul searching pushed once more to the fore, before finally breaking out with Heyndreckx screeching – ‘Maybe I’ve been selfless, maybe I’ve been worthless’. No longer in a mode of reflection as she delivers the lyrics with the air of someone who thinks mistakes have been made, but this is me and if you don’t like it, that’s your problem. A quite incredible song with a chameleonic ability to evolve throughout.
Untitled God Song is a beautiful tale of contemplation of a superior being, while single Oom Sha La La is reminiscent of The Velvet Underground’s Oh Sweet Nuthin. The latter begins with a hushed chorus of ‘ooo sha la la’ that creates an ear worm and hooks the listener from the outset. The song glides with effortless swagger, building in pace throughout, until the crescendo with Heyndreckx hysterically howling, ‘I need to start a garden’ before bringing the song to a close as the mantra ‘ooo sha la la’ kicks back in.
I Need to Start a Garden concludes with Drinking Song – a flowing vignette of fantastic imagery and ‘green little postcards’, providing a fitting end to one of 2018’s best debuts to date and the perfect showcase for one of the Pacific North West’s top new talents.