Album cover art for “I Need to Start a Garden” by Haley Heynderickx, Portland, OR, US, March 9, 2018. Photo from haleyheynderickx.bandcamp.com.
Singer/songwriter Haley Heynderickx released her debut album, “I Need to Start a Garden,” on Mar. 9, 2018. She blends the Filipino and church music that defined her childhood with shades of indie, folk and rock to create a sharp but signature sound.
Oftentimes, “I Need to Start a Garden” reads like a children’s storybook: bright imagery, on-the-nose lyrics and heartfelt messaging. Yet almost always, there’s some subtext going on, seemingly juxtaposing or otherwise negating what’s being presented. These paradoxes often yield insightful and revealing takeaways — on time, on humanity, on existence.
Take the introduction, “No Face,” for example. While seemingly demanding and declarative — “Face me, face me entirely” — there’s a ghostliness with the song too. The backing vocals haunt the outskirts of Heynderickx’s dry guitar, feeding off her quiet and collected anger. They seethe in the glory of what could have come out of this relationship. It’s a brief song, yet appropriately sets the tone for the album: direct, yet dichotomous; jarring, yet familiar.
The narrative standout “The Bug Collector” presents some of the most bizarre imagery. Heynderickx’s subject of her love fears insects that are out to get them. Of course, there’s more going on beneath the lyrics: the extended metaphor acts as a reassurance to her lover that “Nothing’s out to get [them].” They can stay present within their relationship.
Instrumentally, “The Bug Collector” undulates between descending chromatic guitar passages, distant horn solos and driving chord changes. Heynderickx does a spectacular job setting the pastoral scene for this track with her impressive guitar work and hushed vocals.
These assurances continue on “Jo,” where vocally, Heynderickx stuns. Somehow, she yearns heartily while she lullabies peacefully. The temporary warmth and love she feels ooze through her strumming and blossom at the top of her vocal range. During the last third of the track, however, drums enter the mix and exponentiate her yearning. The song becomes a slow jam effortlessly.
Across only three tracks so far, Heynderickx proves her musicianship wonderfully, capturing vivid pictures of her dichotomous loves. On the next song, she astonishes even more, tracking the falling out of her relationship.
“Worth It,” seven minutes in runtime, fires on all cylinders. With catchy guitar licks, moments of silence, rocking instrumentals and intimate vocals, this song takes the listener into the shoes of Heynderickx. You can hear her confusion: “I don’t need you there / But I need you sometimes / But not all the time, no.”
She pushes and pulls between independence and desperation similarly, with the repetition of “Put me in a box … / Call me anything you want.” Many builds and releases happen across the track, cathartically plodding between being “worthless” and “worth it.” Again, her dichotomies are direct, stabbing the audience in the heart.
The final leg of the track is perhaps my favorite moment on “I Need to Start a Garden.” Reverb-soaked guitars and massive bass flutter against pounding drums, ebbing and flowing like a heartbeat. It captures the complexities of Heynderickx’s falling out, as well as the complexities of loving in general.
The lyric of “I’m letting you go” begins the next track, “Show You a Body.” It calls back to the haunting of “No Face” and the strangeness of “The Bug Collector,” yet it differentiates itself with its jittering keys and oblique string bass. The morose lyrical subject also makes it a clear highlight.
Chimes also glitter during “Show You a Body”’s instrumental passages, setting the listener in a garden with a decomposing body. One of my favorite lyrics on the record comes on this track: “I am humbled by breaking down.” Heynderickx essentially compares herself to this body: a ***look what I’ve become*** to her now past lover.
Her tensity stays with her on the following track, “Untitled God Song.” Featuring an incredible guitar performance by Heynderickx, it waltzes between the fear of looking forward and the dangers of nostalgia. It’s expressive, yet still trapped in her heart; this love stained her.
To wash her past off, Heynderickx does the only explainable thing: act bodacious and naive. The call-and-response “Oom Sha La La” may stick out like a sore thumb on the tracklist as the most upbeat cut by far, but it’s essential in proving Heynderickx’s multifaceted abilities on “I Need to Start a Garden.” Its intentionally stiff and awkward lyrics comment on absurdity, basking in youth and shrugging off any shred of doubt.
As a final gesture, Heynderickx contrasts this youth with death on “Drinking Song” with a serene approach. It sways much like a bar song, with Heynderickx getting drunk at the end of existence with her friends, reflecting on “the good, the bad and the gone.” It features an interesting chord progression and surprisingly sweet backing vocals for its hefty topic, closing the album as it began: with a dichotomy.
“I Need to Start a Garden” proves to be an incredible singer-songwriter debut for Heynderickx, with an almost literary level of depth. I could not recommend it more.