Listening to Portland-based Haley Heynderickx’s debut album for the first time, it’s forgivable to just lean back into the melodies, soak up the whispery delivery, and absorb the stripped back guitar work. There’s some gorgeous 60s-style folk music going on here. And then, bang. Haley makes you listen. There’s nothing like a quietly unassuming singer suddenly losing their shit and screeching “I need to start a garden” over and over to make you pay attention.
The album is short, barely 30 minutes long, but Haley weaves complex lyrics, beautiful fingerpicking guitar work, sadness and quirkiness though it all. Album-opener ‘No Face’ is so short and delicate as to be barely there. It ends so abruptly it feels like the listener missed something. But there is power in the delivery – the self-doubt pours out of the song and it’s painful to listen to: “Face me entirely, tell me, tell me what’s wrong here. Is it the bridge of my nose, or the backs of my skin, is it the pull of my hips, that you couldn’t let in?”
The garden is central to the imagery throughout this short album. It swarms with all kinds of critters: bees, birds and bugs. The album also touches on themes of self-doubt, religion and outright visceral emotion.
Lyrically, it’s a beautifully poetic album. On ‘Jo’ we find her cradling a friend who passed away “like honeycomb holding the bee in the folds“. Exquisite imagery. But Heynderickx seems equally comfortable poking fun at herself with quirky metaphors throughout. In ‘Untitled God Song’ the deity in question is a bit shonky: “Has a trot in her walk and her coach bags are knock-off”. In ‘The Bug Collector’ her house is teeming with all sorts of undesirables trying to sneak in and ruin her lover’s perfect morning. In keeping with the garden imagery, she’s battling with a narky millipede and praying mantis priest who she deals with by putting him “inside a jam jar”.
Heynderickx investigates her mental state in the upbeat “Oom Sha La La” – she ends by shrieking for some peace, but sounds broken “I need to start a garden, I need to start a garden”.
‘Worth It’ brings together some of the key album themes in an epic 8-minute track. It showcases the full range of Heynderickx’s songwriting and vocal ability and brings together a range of styles. At times soft and laid-back, at others on the periphery of indie rock. It’s edgy and sarcastic: “Put me in a box and call me anything you want, boy”.
Yeah, right, no-one is putting Haley in a box anytime soon.