Madeline Kenney is certainly uncommon. With a seemingly endless list of skills, professions, and hobbies, we should all consider ourselves lucky that she has chosen to take the path of being a musician. Majoring in neuroscience, baking professionally, nannying, and teaching piano lessons are just a few of Kenney's many interests. She was also a trained modern dancer and painter. The 26 year-old Oakland native is truly a jack of all trades, and yet she has managed to master all of them.
Her stunning debut full-length, Night Night on the First Landing, out on Carpark Records, has tapped into something seriously bewitching. Self-descibed on her bandcamp as "twang-haze," her music swells with emotion, while layers of looped harmonies, and mesmerizing guitar riffs create a dream-like soundscape in the background.
The album, produced by Toro Y Moi's Chaz Bear, begins with a recording of a child speaking about monsters, reminiscent of Conor Oberst and Big Thief. It captures innocence in its most unadulterated form, (pun intended), without sounding trope-like. The child's voice appears in other tracks of Night Night, sometimes with Kenney's voice responding. It is hard not to recognize the symbolism of a young mind converging with an older, wiser one. Especially considering the title of the album and the cover art- which depicts a girl looking up at a night sky filled with shooting stars, from the first landing of a stair case.
In an interview, Kenney stated that one of her favorite ways to write is in the vain of Shel Silverstein. She likes to cross the line between funny and serious. Her cheeky lyrical nature is evident in the opening lines of "Big One," where a sweeping tribute for a lover is rooted in tasteful sexual innuendo. Sometimes her lyrics even bring to mind one of my favorite film characters, Amelie. "In my apartment, I hear all my neighbors. They're fucking or watching tv." Much like Amelie, Kenney is audacious and original, with low key voyeuristic tendencies.
I got to speak with her briefly and she signed my copy of Night Night. We discussed how strangely quiet and reserved dc crowds tend to be, as the crowd was standing at least 10 feet away from the stage when her set began. A few songs into her set, Madeline urged the audience to come closer. By the end, I am sure she had won over some new fans.
Madeline was opening for The Mynabirds, but she is currently finishing up her tour in California, with acts like Jay Som, Stef Chura, and Landlady. The last shows are on 9/30 in San Diego, 10/2 in Los Angeles, and 10/10 in San Francisco.
If you missed this tour or have ever wondered what I look like at a show, you can't miss my stellar bobbing in this video taken of Madeline performing "Rita" at DC9.
Video source: DCW50