Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP Blog.
Gardening is an undertaking which requires a great deal of attention and patience. This is not something I know from firsthand experience, but from talking to family, friends, and neighbors, often squinting in the direction of the sun near dusk or turning on their hoses. The combination of satisfaction and mild exhaustion on their faces after being the yard all day, the feeling of accomplishment having a seat in the grass, their clothes liberally powered with dirt.
I see the beds of vegetation -- flowers, fruits, and vegetables, sometimes even a small cluster of trees -- and almost immediately realize it takes a level of dedication I’m not sure I possess. Around this time last year, the woman I was dating gave me a plant for our anniversary; merely remembering to water it every week is a task that fills me with excessive pride.
On “Oom Sha La La,” Haley Heynderickx gestures toward starting a garden because the process is as laborious and difficult as the art of songwriting. The immaculate craft involved in her debut full-length album, I Need to Start a Garden (almost shrieked in refrain here on its penultimate song), manifests the care Heynderickx puts into her work, as careful and meticulous as planting and pruning and watering plants in a backyard.
Scattered among the feelings of tenderness, crushing doubt, and feeling humbled after emotional breakdowns, there is a sense of humor in Heynderickx’s writing. On “The Bug Collector,” paranoia sets in on a couple in the form of insects with (perceived) bad intentions; eager to please her lover, the bugs are shuffled out of the window and guided into jars. Her writing is always with both a careful hand and eye; it's observant, eloquent, and always chosen with the emotion behind it in mind.
“Untitled God Song” is an eerily appropriate title for such a weighty topic, as all of our interpretations of God from here on Earth are only theories. Heynderickx leans on everyday personification, envisioning God as a woman with a bootleg Coach bag and “big lips and thick hips,” Her eyes gleaming with the image of heaven while leaving the high beams of Her car on.
I Need to Start a Garden ends with a re-recorded version of “Drinking Song,” the opening track of her stellar Fish Eyes EP. Over an acoustic guitar -- versus the electric of the EP version -- the song highlights the dexterity of both her singing and guitar playing. Here, her voice is lightly drawn while her lyrics produce evocative imagery of puffs of smoke writing out names and her guitar flutters in a deceptively simple melody.
The fingerpicking on the aforementioned “The Bug Collector” is accompanied by the lush tones of trombone, tasteful but not so tasteful as to be easily copied by a ninth-grader occupying second-chair in their school’s concert band. “Worth It,” is a comfortably lethargic tune which ambles its way through its nearly eight-minute running time until ¾ of the way through, when Heynderickx wails her way to self-assurance in the song’s closing refrain.
“Oom Sha La La” breaks out of its swaying chorus at the end of the song for a tonal shift which makes the song sounds like it has slowed down and skipped on the needle, a very subversive songwriting accouterment. The touch of the album is not always delicate but never gets too heavy, with Heynderickx and the members of her band always striking that very careful balance.
Heynderickx’s voice is an instrument which almost effortlessly goes to unexpected places; on “Jo,” when she sings about sleeping “like a baby” with a lover in her warm embrace, she hits a high note that is every bit as metaphorical as it is lyrical. On opener “No Face,” as the tension of her words build, her vocals are as soft and smooth as a brand new blanket but grow to be frail and brittle as her voice jumps into the next octave.
What is the big emotional takeaway from spending one’s time in a garden? I think a great deal about the fact something is always in bloom. Apt similitude for such a subtly-but-startlingly great debut album, one whose sounds and structure feel not like an explosion, but a quiet growth -- a record whose author provided scrupulous attention to create a piece of work meaningful, affecting, and beautiful. If everything that required such care turned out so gorgeously, maybe I’d acquire a second plant.
I Need to Start a Garden is out now via Mama Bird Recording Co. Heynderickx performs this weekend at the Treefort Music Fest in Boise, ID, returning to the Northwest on August 3rd for the Pickathon Music Festival in Happy Valley, OR.
City of Music Career Day Takes Place on March 31st
A free educational program for people between the ages of 16 and 24 taking place at MoPOP, KEXP, and the Vera Project, City of Music Career Day is an invaluable resource for young people who are looking for some helpful knowledge about the music industry by offering networking opportunities and workshops highlighting a plethora of fields, including but not limited to performance, management, arts administration, licensing, record label operations, retail, journalism, concert production, and broadcasting. More information on the event (including its keynote speakers) can be found here.
On her tenth full-length album, the Portland singer/songwriter explores issues of safety and security through the imagery and beauty of her songwriting.
Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Today’s song, featured on The Morn…
Every week, KEXP features a new local artist with an interview and suggested tracks for where to start. This week, we’re featuring Portland songwriter Haley Heynderickx, who play Concerts at the Mural this Friday, August 11, with Telekinesis and SISTERS.