Review Summary: Madeline starts a garden.
On Kenney’s debut, Night Night At The First Landing
, Madeline felt like she was adrift in her songs. The guitars and hazy ambience guided the album’s trajectory, and she sort of just floated along with the current. It made for a beautiful, laid back experience – even if Kenney did not feel like the captain of the ship. Perfect Shapes
introduces Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner as producer, and with that comes some change. Madeline’s vocals step into focus, becoming the centerpiece of a more melodically-inclined sound. For what it loses in atmospheric texture it makes up for in creativity, dabbling in electronic expansion while guiding Kenney towards something more lustrous and contemporary than her meek, indie roots.
Kenney’s sophomore effort is an evolution and appropriation of control. As she grows musically, lyrically, and personally, she is not merely left with responsibility – she demands
it. The symbolism is at its clearest when a robotic, male voice interjects with “wait” and Madeline responds with “Don't cut me off -- I'm in my own time.” The idea of taking control of your life is one that surfaces throughout the entire record. On the opener ‘Overhead’, she laments “I'm in it now.” She accesses courage from all angles, including a newfound demand for personal space, “You, always around me…shut the window, I can't breathe.” No matter the topic, she projects dignity and poise while placing a wall between herself and those who seek to jeopardize her autonomy.
There’s still an overarching tenderness though, even in her crusade for respect and independence. Madeline softly sings, “When I see you, I'm so happy, I cry” on the title track, which also happens to be the best illustration of her craft’s maturation – featuring an extended electronic bridge and ambient outro that is accented by shimmering guitars. It represents her human side, that tender core that always requires affection regardless of what we ostensibly project. Just like anyone, she’s afraid to lose the ones she loves (“I don't ever want to hear the goodbye”) and needs reassurance (“Hold me, I'm sinking”). Outwardly Perfect Shapes
seizes governance of Kenney’s career and life, but behind the curtain she’s vulnerable and fearful.
I can’t help but be reminded – a little bit musically, but a lot thematically – of Haley Heynderickx’s mantra on I Need to Start a Garden
. On that album, and especially the single ‘Oom Sha La La’, Heynderickx lamented the stagnancy of her life and demanded change through deliberate action. That’s precisely what Kenney achieves on Perfect Shapes
, even down to the lush, green artwork. This album is Madeline’s garden, a flourishing melodic/electronic progression from Night Night
’s straightforward indie-pop, and a shell-shattering statement of confidence to boot. Kenney has come into full bloom, and Perfect Shapes
will forever capture that moment.