Review Summary: Lover of song, find your voice
Above the soil beneath its blossoms – somewhere over and between its sharp, uncomplicated foundations – I Need to Start a Garden
sounds imposed upon. A landscape of soft browns and verdant greens, the collection of eight songs is one of ample blemishes, plentiful splatters – each indelible, each unmistakably human. On 'The Bug Collector', it's a sudden, percussive rattle; a series of appearing, disappearing, reappearing trombone pulls; a subtle ambience that buries itself within the background as a delicate tension buds, without warning, within the song's patchwork. Even at its core the song is meticulous: a wholesome slice of folk music, assured in its structure, dedicated to the beauty of it all. 'Show You a Body' isn't so discreet. Dramatic piano flutters coalesce with double bass bows to fill spaces between (and later obfuscate) Heynderickx’s sparser-than-usual songwriting. Within either example, however, the album's dichotomies remain clear: a discordant existence between its foundation and adornments; a struggle as internal as it is external; and the beautiful push and pull that exists between these.
Opener 'No Face' unfurls the album toward a billow of questions. "Is it the pull of my hips/ that you couldn't let in"" moans Heynderickx in the present tense, before lamenting, "Well, I wish that I had known." The song’s title exists in reference to both its opening lyric (“face me entirely”) and Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away
, in which a masked spirit, Kaonashi (“faceless”) falls in love with the film’s human protagonist. His obsession with the child – a cause of significant tension within the film – leads the spirit down a path of destruction, foolishly adopting the most negative of human traits in a bid for her affection. It’s an apt allusion; I Need to Start a Garden
’s own conflict – dependence, an unwillingness to let go – parallels that of Kaonashi’s well. Following from ‘No Face’, the aforementioned ‘Bug Collector’ adopts a similarly surreal, ethereal tone: “and there’s a centipede naked in your bedroom/ oh, and you swear to god, the fucker’s out to get you,” it begins, detailing the singer’s futile battles with various insects (“centipedes,” “millipedes,” “mantises”; “fuckers,” “sluggers”, “priests”) that plague her lover’s, and by extension her day. It’s a simple, though far from crude metaphor; Heynderickx is as careful with word choice as she is melody. Each insect is more significant than the last, each “and I digress” more restless, resigned. While mid-album epic 'Worth It' accomplishes less in eight minutes than 'No Face' does in under two, its thematic meander gives way to profound proclamation in its climax: “maybe I’ve, maybe I’ve been worth it.” It’s an assertive nod, borne of desperation, though no less powerful, the first of several surprises on I Need to Start a Garden
I’ve little doubt that the album has existed in some form or another for a long time. It’s not so much that the songs sound tired (although I suspect most were written a considerable length of time prior to their release) but rather the album, in its parts or as a whole, sounds considered – mulled over and meticulous. The tuning present on ‘The Bug Collector’, for instance, foregoes the need for a bassist as its protagonist faces battle alone, wielding little more than a deformed acoustic and a marred perspective. Foreign, imposing sounds are lain atop delicate, loose-stringed structures for something altogether more evocative than it is convenient: a sudden, percussive rattle to indicate the start of a showdown; successive trombone pulls to conjure the fragile, albeit insurmountable foe; inconspicuous ambiance to remind us – and her – of the inevitability of defeat. Unlike several other of the album’s composite parts, its is a subtle imposition, a tenuous disharmony – between the song’s foundation and its surrounding instrumentation. It seems to me a literal imposition, too. Each of I Need to Start a Garden
’s songs (barring perhaps lead single ‘Oom Sha La La’) sounds raw, as though Heynderickx recorded them live – at their most base – before dressing them up with these instrumental embellishments. (I write “blemishes,” “embellishments,” but in truth a great deal of the album’s power relies on its accompanying musicians, in spite of Heynderickx’s raw appeal.)
And I digress, for I Need to Start a Garden
is an album of searching – of exploration and soul-seeking, culminating into something akin to that of self-affirmation. At some point, the apostrophising stops. On ‘Show You a Body,’ the singer chants: “I am letting you go, I am letting you go awry,” and indeed, somewhere between the ghostly “ooh”s, the coalescence and dissipation of guitar and piano, the “you” dies. The song is both climax and turning point, by the end of which Heynderickx is able to put to death at once her former self and its reliance on these forlorn manifestations of lovers past. And ultimately, having overcome – or at least having put behind – these internal preoccupations, the singer formulates an external solution by way of the album’s titular mantra, “I need to start a garden.” A gorgeous smattering of electric folk, ‘Oom Sha La La’ immortalises the line in its climax – the sound of desperate bliss. I Need to Start a Garden
is, thus, its own solution, its own life-affirming motto, its own garden, a deeply engaging manifestation of past grief and inevitable triumph.