Madeline Kenney | Sucker’s Lunch | (Carpark Records)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
It’s misleading to describe indie singer/songwriter Madeline Kenney’s third release as simply a love album.
Anyone who has followed her short but impressive career knows Kenney doesn’t follow traditions when it comes to songwriting. Her lyrics are reliably interesting and often absorbing, even if you’re not always certain what they are about. That hasn’t changed on Sucker’s Lunch.
If the advance notes didn’t explain that this set was written about the fears and hesitations of falling in love, it’s fair to assume most listeners wouldn’t immediately understand that. On “Double Hearted” she sings “who knew/that I’m sucker for nothing?/I want you/to come and f*** up the garden,” hardly a concept most would consider pertaining to a person falling in love. Or this from “Cut the Real” … “I know what’s inside my head but I think I need a breather /if I wasn’t such a wreck I’d start something/I was sick of waking up to the bright light coming/if I wasn’t such a mess I’d start something.”
Additionally, Kenney’s words only occasionally rhyme with song structures that are twisty and unexpectedly intriguing. While each track is beautifully constructed and produced (by Wye Oak guys Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack), this is an album that’s more effective when heard in one sitting where you can marinate in the vibe. Kenney remains in a tranquil mood throughout, keeping the rhythms on low boil while layering guitars, drums, keyboards and the occasional saxophone into mid-tempo, frequently dreamy, pop with elusive but captivating hooks bubbling underneath the surface.
Listening closely with headphones helps pick up the sophisticated and subtle instrumentation. That’s especially true with intricacies like the distorted stun guitar in “White Window Light” that appears and dissipates just as quickly as Kenney sings “stand by the window/I want to recreate the picture I have in my head of you surrounded by/white light.” It’s as close to romantic as she gets.
Kenney’s sweet, supple vocals float in and around her melodies, alleviating the oblique and sometimes dark lyrics. On “Picture of You” she reflects on some of her perceived inadequacies with “I know I’m a lot/
I’m waiting for this to get easy,” which perhaps explains why she is conflicted with this thing called love.
Between the lyrics questioning relationships and music that swirls and soars, Sucker’s Lunch isn’t easy listening. But those who dig deeper into Madeline Kenney’s uncertainties about love and affection will relate to the difficulties this process of starting a new serious relationship can be, and how wonderfully these complex and beautifully crafted songs tackle, even obliquely, that thorny subject.