Singer-songwriter Madeline Kenney spent time as a neurologist, baker, dancer and nanny, but music was never far behind; she studied piano when she was 5. Lucky for us, those early memories never faded.
The Seattle-born Kenney wrote, arranged and recorded her debut, Night Night at the First Landing, with production help from Chaz Bundick (Toro Y Moi), but the eclectic indie rock mix of the album is all her own. She’s in command of every song, crafting shoegaze and indiepop time capsules in the vein of Mazzy Star or Jessy Lanza. The album continuously skirts the edges of sonic tension with a well-crafted dappling of comet-shaped, dreamy pings and dips.
Read Paste’s interview with Madeline Kenney here.
Initially, her songs seemed to focus more on moody thoughtfulness than a specific message. The pensive notes and guitar loops in “Don’t Forget // There’s Room” support just two lines of lyrics, half of which are in the title, so you get an immediate sense she’s not going to spell anything out. As the album naturally progresses, who and what she’s lashing out becomes clearer, and these deciphered messages become her thought process.
“Always” gives a clearer idea of her struggles with a controlling person — after the song’s understated intro, it bounds ahead, with a full garage rock tapestry and dreamy highlights. “Does it sit right with you? You can skip out / While all the rest of us are chewing self doubt,” she reassures, later promising “I can take, and I will.”
Kenney often includes ambient soundbites in her music, a characteristic not uncommon these days in indie rock. A solitary piano note on “This Way // You’re Happy” segues into nostalgic home movie-style commentary about a catastrophic earthquake and a child talking about a “sleepy dinosaur.” Other sounds on Night Night are just as touching. The album is full of guitar loops, clicking percussion and high-pitched, wavering notes that reverberate and fade. Swirling guitar brings and echoing vocals bring layers of distortion.
The overtly sexual lines in “Big One” are a non-subtle peek into her passion for someone: “My other car is your face/ It drives me wild,” she sings unabashedly over a swarthy, laid-back beat. Smooth, electric, ribbony guitar licks on “Big One” beckon Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage. “Rita” takes a shoegaze-y stance over a dazzling swooping guitar hook and a powerful ending that hints at ‘90s Breeders. Overlapping guitar layers and Kenney’s ending wail make the brief song explode.
One of her strongest songs, “Uncommon,” begins as a respite, but with so much of Night Night, that feeling of tension returns. “What’s so uncommon?” she continues to ask, growing agitated. Finally, she lets go: “Now I’ve come with a backbone, and I can’t wait.” Jangly, floating guitar strums lead to the end: “Stick the knife… in him.” For such a self-assured debut as Night Night at the First Landing, we can only hope to hear more beauty and pain from Kenney in the near future.