All the best albums have ‘that’ moment, that instance where you drop what you’re doing, stare at the speakers and realise you’re listening to something a bit special. On Haley Heynderickx‘ debut album, that moment comes towards the end of Oom Sha La La, where the Portland singer suddenly starts to crank up the intensity and repeatedly starts to shriek the album’s title: “I need to start a garden, I NEED to start a garden…I NEED TO START A GARDEN”. And, with that, you’re completely pulled in.
I Need To Start A Garden is only 30 minutes long, but it leaves a deep impression. It’s an album that’s been a long time in the making; it’s been two years since Heynderickx’s Fish Eyes EP, and attempts to record a full-length record stumbled in the face of both personal and financial issues. Yet it’s an album that’s well worth the wait. There are nods to the likes to Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten, but with a sorrow and fragility that’s all her own.
The songs themselves run from short little sketches – like the opening No Face which just seems to stop suddenly with no warning – to lengthy, intensity-building epics like the seven and a half minute Worth It. What they all have in common is some sort of emotional turmoil, a sense that Heynderickx is experiencing some sort of cathartic energy through these songs. The aforementioned No Face addresses a departing lover in devastating turns over a low-key melody: “Tell me what’s wrong here…is it the bridge of my nose…is it the pull of my hips that you couldn’t let in?”. The fact that the song just peters out with no conclusion makes it somehow even more affecting.
Jo is another beautiful moment, about a friend of Heynderickx’ who died several years ago – it’s another song where Heynderickx’s voice gets completely caught up in the moment, her vocals whooping, hollering and almost breaking completely when she gets to the line “I slept like a baby with you in my arms”. It’s reminiscent of Jeff Buckley in its intensity and minimal instrumental arrangements.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. There’s a wistful sense of humour on display throughout I Want To Start A Garden, especially on the standout Untitled God Song where Heynderickx imagines meeting her creator – “maybe my God has thick hips and big lips”, the sort of deity of who carries a knock-off coach bag and plays Nintendo. Oom Sha La La is the most accessible track, a playful little ditty that marries a doo-wop chorus with lyrics that read like a stream of consciousness rant – “this world that I have trusted has been over and busted and rusted by an arbitrary sonogram” being just one example. By the time she’s screaming the album title, you’re convinced you’re listening to one of the best songs of the year.
As accomplished as the album is, there’s a sense that this is just the beginning. At just eight tracks long and with a half-hour running time, I Want To Start A Garden is more an introduction to Haley Heynderickx than a fully formed declaration. It’s enough to make you very excited about what’s yet to come, though – this particular garden is ready to bloom into some very special greenery.