Artist: Madeline Kenney
Album: Sucker’s Lunch
Words: Harry Higginson
The field of female singer-songwriters, especially of the indie persuasion, is going through something of a golden age at the moment. From Stella Donnelly and Courtney Barnett’s similarly sarcastic, yet stylistically distinct brands of Australian indie rock, to the hazier aesthetics of artists like Soccer Mommy, Faye Webster and Girl in Red, there is a huge amount of variety and quality in this admittedly loosely linked scene. Pulling from shoegaze, dreampop, bedroom pop, art rock, and even elements of jazz, this wave has produced some truly excellent albums, and brought an unabashedly tender voice to many of indie’s best new releases. However, whilst this surge in new artists is certainly a very important step forward to subgenres of music historically dominated, as most things are, by white men, it comes with something of a downside for new artists: it is very hard to carve out a unique voice amidst this eclectic and versatile bunch.
Madeline Kenney’s third album, Sucker’s Lunch, is both an incredibly compelling contribution to this scene, but one equally held back by not being truly able to carve out its own niche. Sonically, this record typifies this new wave of dreamy indie, blending hazy lead guitars, shuffling drum rhythms and bouncy basslines with a laid-back vocal approach that will be instantly familiar to fans of some of the aforementioned established names. There are some interesting instrumental flourishes across the album too, incorporating piano, keyboards and even the odd marimba to bulk out and layer the mix, whilst the wind instruments that crop up on songs like ‘White Window Light’ add complexity to the record’s sonic palate. Hearing conventional rock and pop instrumentation intertwine with these slightly jazzier musical inflections really adds to the experience of these dreamier cuts, with the layers Kenney builds up being arguably this LP’s strongest point.
this interlocking blend of voice and instrumentation creates these strange, delicate hooks that are equal parts infectious and unique
This density and complexity is expanded upon by Kenney’s intricately constructed vocal harmonies, such as on the odd and angular ‘Double Hearted’, where the tension created by the interplay of layered vocals drenches the track in a slightly dissonant, witchy haze. It is moments like this where the record really shines, as this interlocking blend of voice and instrumentation creates these strange, delicate hooks that are equal parts infectious and unique. These moments of genuine excellence really highlight the crux of what Kenney is good at, and there is certainly room for expansion and iteration on these ideas.
However, for all of the moments of brilliance, such as the sultry tone of ‘Cut the Real’, or the energetic, synth-laden bounce of ‘Jenny’, there are tracks which feel like they don’t quite stick the landing. The closer, ‘Sweet Coffee’, opens as a bare and vulnerable love song, flirting with the idea of taking risks and the fear of loneliness. Choppy static, moments of near total silence, and a few mournful piano flourishes make for an intriguing opening, even verging on a more experimental tone, but as the song settles into a slow, jazzy groove, this intrigue fades a little.
Lush, expansive, and at times truly brilliant, this is certainly an album worth listening to
‘Tell You Everything’ is a similar story, opening with a spacy and dissonant guitar lead that then ends up morphing into one of the less interesting soundscapes of the record, a great initial idea feeling a little wasted on a track that could have built to something a little odder from its basic idea.
That said, there are certainly more hits than misses on Sucker’s Lunch, and even to call these few tracks misses would be harsh. The reality is that with such moments of inspiration on this record, Madeline Kenney sets an incredibly high standard for her own music, and whilst not truly ground-breaking, her effort here is an excellent and mature contribution to indie pop’s crop of excellent female singer-songwriters. Lush, expansive, and at times truly brilliant, this is certainly an album worth listening to, and an artist that acts as a stellar representation of what their subgenre has to offer.
Sucker’s Lunch is out now via Carpark