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First Play: Haley Heynderickx, I Need to Start a Garden

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Melody Lau

Haley Heynderickx has a lot of questions about the world and she believes the answers might be at the bottom of her songs.

The Portland, Ore., singer-songwriter, who gained attention last year when her NPR Tiny Desk contest submission was featured on NPR's All Songs Considered, likes to tackle existentialist subjects with precision and detail. What does God look like, she asks on “Untitled God Song;” Heynderickx guesses she has “big hips and big lips.” What is the meaning of life, she ponders on “Oom Sha La La;” who knows for sure, but Heynderickx notes that “the brink of my existence essentially is a comedy.”

Heynderickx may not have cracked the code on any of this just yet, but the process has been beautiful to listen to. I Need to Start a Garden is her debut full-length, after releasing two EPs in the past two years. Here, Heynderickx finds herself surrounded by nature — reincarnated bugs, bees nestled in honeycombs, tending to gardens — trying to stare down the cycle of life, but ultimately not sure what to make of it. Anxiety courses through each song, sometimes manifesting in powerlessness (“No Face”) and other times riled up and focused on breaking out (“Worth It”).

Vocally, Heynderickx shines, whether she’s quivering under the weight of her own worries or soaring so high, her flurry of acoustic strums can’t keep up. Some of the best songwriting and singing of the year so far can be found on I Need to Start a Garden. At her best, Heynderickx’s simple guitar-driven melodies, which range from folk to garage rock at their louder moments, recall the sounds of Joni Mitchell, Angel Olsen, Feist or the artist that inspired her the most, Bob Dylan. Each listen is guaranteed to reveal something new, something surprising and, while no questions are answered, Heynderickx ultimately still finds some solace and peace in it all, and that’s enough for her and us listeners.

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