The debut LP from Haley Heynderickx showcases a tender and bittersweet range of poetry lying on a soft bed of modern folk music. I Need To Start A Garden is an experiment in introspection from the Portland-based singer-songwriter, moving through moments of rainy day existentialism to religion based inquisition. Musically delicate and stark, with guitar picking work making up the bulk of the compositions, it is an interesting peek behind the eyes of Heynderickx and an exhibition of her hauntingly beautiful voice, reminiscent of The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan or Joni Mitchell. The deeply contemplative nature of these songs, though occasionally leaving us a little puzzled as to the meaning of certain lyrics, mostly provides a sense of warmth and affection for a woman so set on exploring herself and the world she lives in.
Opening up with the shortest and perhaps most troubling song on the record, “No Face” immediately and strongly hints at the emotional path this album will take. The lyrics paint a scene of relationship turmoil and heartbreak, lamenting on her lack of understanding of the situation and the lover she is losing. “Is it the bridge between worlds that makes you feel alone? Well I wish that I had known,” she cries, the utterly tragic lyricism offset by the sweetness of the vocal and the gently picked guitar melody. Affecting and raw, this one might have been a true tearjerker if not for the fact that it is cut off so soon, seemingly before it could fully blossom. “The Bug Collector” lifts the mood with some faster paced guitar work and a childlike tale of insects intruding on Heynderickx’s quiet moments. Soft hearted as she is, she paints emotions on to these bugs and makes friends of them, not killing them but rather collecting them and setting them free. Nothing much more than a light fable which admittedly does bring a nice balance to the record, rising trombone and keys providing a nice touch at the close.
Dedicated to a friend who passed away several years ago, “Jo” is as achingly beautiful as the record gets. It speaks of a love so pure and an appreciation for small acts of kindness. Heynderickx’s voice becomes unbridled and saturated in the emotion that this track obviously conjures for her as we hear her wail, “You are alone, your kindness the sweetest that I’ve ever known.” It was a bold move to open up the album with three completely unknown tracks but one that pays dividends as they hold themselves well enough and encourage the listener to take the plunge into the rest of the album. Indeed, we do not come across the lead single until very near the end, at track seven. “Oom Sha La La”, released in September 2017, is described by Heynderickx as “pretty silly but pretty dang honest”, and she’s not wrong on either account. A goofy doo-wop rhythm provides the silliness but the lyrics go in another direction. Lines such as “The brink of my existence is essentially a comedy,” and “The world I have trusted has bent over and busted,” betray the light-heartedness of the music with some hard-hitting truths that show this artist is most definitely questioning society’s modern antics and her place among the madness. There is however some acceptance in the end, with the proclamation that she’s sick of her mind being weighed down with problems and that she needs to start a garden, the obvious inspiration for the album title.
The last single to be released before the full album drop was “Worth It”, an eight minute ode to self acceptance. The track shifts back and forth through two distinct sections, one faster and one slower, with no chorus and three verses. An interesting and often overlooked topic is discussed, that of acceptable selfishness. The idea that at times we all need to put ourselves first in order to achieve our goals and that we need not feel ashamed for this. It’s a particularly strong and positive message for modern art culture, especially coming from a strong female voice during the surging movement for equal rights and respect within the music industry. It is an important song and the undoubted centrepiece of the album, however it does seem to stretch on a little, leaving one wondering if it may have been just as beautiful being cut to five minutes.
“Show You A Body” takes an interesting turn musically, introducing piano for the first time in sections that speed up and slow down rapidly, contributing to a fleeting jazz/operatic feel. Obscure lyrics perhaps commenting on the relevant theme of female body positivity and a lack thereof from the male population end up with Heynderickx eerily howling “I am humbled by breaking down.” It’s a good example of the confusion imparted on the listener due to a lack of clarity in the lyrics, as is the next tune “Untitled God Song”. This was the second single from the album and confusion is perhaps more understandable here. How clear can one really be when attempting to express their journey to understanding the universe and their own existence? For some, it may be easy but for today’s youth, religion and spirituality are wide and diverse topics. Credit is due for her courage, but as she admits, “My web is still spinning, you can’t see it yet,” implying that even she does not fully understand what she’s trying to say. The music is suitably emotive and builds to an intense section towards the end with crashing drums and soaring horns, as well as the heaviest guitar we’ve yet heard from the album. The album closer, “Drinking Song”, was previously released in 2016 on the Fish Eyes EP but was re-recorded for this album. It is a tender ending, delivering marvellous poetic imagery and gentle guitar work to send us off.
Perhaps the most obvious criticism one could make is that the album is only eight tracks long and with the first song coming in at under two minutes, many may make the determination that it is barely more than an EP. Truthfully, the unique nuance of the songwriting and the weight of the subject matter render this fact irrelevant. By the end, Heynderickx has taken us through a deeply personal journey and left a firm mark in the form of her exquisite voice. It is a solid debut and a good platform to build from for an aspiring folk singer.