Madeline Kenney wows with her delicately transcendent debut album.
“Don’t forget / There’s room for you,” Madeline Kenney sings on the opening track of her ethereal debut album, inviting listeners to submerge themselves in the immersive and delicately transcendent Night Night at the First Landing. Over the course of the next ten tracks, Kenney croons, croaks, and cries her way to one of the best albums of 2017.
In many ways, the last few years have proven to be a big moment for quietly profound female vocalists. From Lorde to Florist, Frankie Cosmos to Waxahatchee -- it could be difficult for a newcomer like Kenney to differentiate herself amongst the noise. Even so, she carves out a place in this community with this release on Company.
Part of Kenney’s appeal is the unique road she that has brought her here. Her journey is something of a Cinderella story. Kenney worked for many years as a baker in the Bay Area preceding pursuing music full-time. Before settling, she called many beautiful places home: the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, British Columbia, and elsewhere. Kenney’s background gives her an everyman quality and a sonic placelessness that renders her music universally listenable. No matter who or where you are, it’s possible that Kenney’s astute lyrics and dreamy guitar will feel relevant to you.
Kenney is informed by her unique experiences, and this knowledge bleeds into lyrics and instrumentals that are subtly and simply profound. In melancholy and lovelorn “Big One”, she perfectly sums up the listless feeling of living a life you no longer recognize, belting, “What has become of my life? / I’m stretching out the good things / And keeping time.” “Witching Hour” sounds like a bizarre love-child between Mitski and Sleater-Kinney, with its raw emotion and grungy guitar. “John in Irish”, which is simply one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, incorporates blurry guitar riffs reminiscent of Slowdive or Beach House paired with breathtaking, Angel Olsen-esque vocals.
However, in an album steeped in heady dreaminess, she also finds room to showcase her humor. “Waitless” follows a partner staying awake in wait for their lover to come home. She opens with “there’s something so good about coming home late and finding you waiting for me / In my apartment, I hear all the neighbors, they’re fucking or watching TV.” The track ends with a comic button, when Kenney deadpans, “You’ve fallen asleep.” Calling to mind the observational one-liners of Australian indie musician Courtney Barnett, this kind of dry playfulness is refreshing and exposes a lyrical confidence to match Kenney’s vocal intensity.
Night Night at the First Landing is a reliably satisfying listen throughout, but that’s not to say that the album is one-note. Kenney folds in surprises, specifically with samples of children speaking, newscasts, and other interesting sound bites. These inserts bind the tracks together, which adds a completeness to the album that is often absent in debut works. It’s likely that this is due in-part to Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bear, producer of both Night Night and Kenney’s previously released LP, Signals. Kenney’s point-of-view and musical prowess combined with Chaz Bear’s reputation for inventiveness ultimately culminates in an unprecedented and sonically intriguing listening experience.
This album is a triumph and bodes well for things to come from Kenney. As she continues to expand her musical horizons -- she is currently learning how to produce and engineer at the Women’s Audio Mission -- it’s clear that we’ll be hearing more in the future. Though the album wishes listeners a Night Night, it is certain that Kenney is preparing a musical dawn for the coming morning.