It took Portland, OR songwriter Haley Heynderickx three attempts to record her debut album, I Need To Start A Garden: the first, on a freezing cold farm, where a horse died during one of the takes; the second, in a conventional studio where she was anxious about money; and the third time, finally, at a friend's studio that only existed briefly, but enabled her the vulnerability and presence required to tackle her songs.
Heynderickx wanted to re-create how she felt while she was writing I Need To Start A Garden, and she accomplishes that trick of time travel on her excellent debut. Heynderickx's music sounds fresh and improvised, as much about process as it is about poetry and craft.
I Need To Start A Garden begins tiny, with acoustic "No Face," plaintively clocking in at under two minutes; it's just an introductory hello, an appetizer to get you ready for what comes next, but still it's a great example of how Heynderickx can fill a room with her voice and an acoustic guitar. "The Bug Collector" shows off her playful lyrical side — she's calming down someone who's freaked out by insects parading as various characters around the house — while also showing off her band: rustling percussion and swooning horns personify the bugs around her open-tuned descending, clucking guitar part.
Nature, bugs and gardens show up a lot, in particular, bees — the image of a honeycomb holding something (bee or human life) occurs at a few key moments. She doesn't state it explicitly, but a reverence for nature is on offer here as an alternative spirituality, or a form of therapy. In "Untitled God Song," she imagines the Divine as a woman with a knockoff coach bag pushing buttons and speaking all languages. Yet in this quirky thought experiment, there's still room for wonder and the unknown.
"I need to start a garden!" she practically screams at the crux of "Oom Sha La La" a totally charming, sashaying stream of consciousness doo wop song full of self-deprecating humour and idiosyncratic details, like sour milk, old olives and a gap in her front teeth; you can hear her shaking off self-doubt and malaise with her band.
Heynderickx works through self-doubt more seriously on eight-minute-long centrepiece "Worth It," which understandably has garnered some Angel Olsen comparisons. When you get to the grungy, almost Nirvana-like climax you're actually only at the mid-section. It's the kind of honest, vulnerable, spacious and meditative performance that could have only happened in the right place at the right time. (Mama Bird Recording Co.)