Developed in the aftermath of a sudden and difficult break-up, it could be easy to peg Madeline Kenney’s new album as one littered with ‘I miss you’s’ and ‘you hurt me’s’; the all too familiar break-up pop which pervades much of today’s chart-toppers. A New Reality Mind, however, is anything but. This is an album where ‘you’ gives way to ‘I’, where rediscovery and reconfiguration of self takes centre stage as an artistic image, and where synths shimmer and stutter beneath Kenney’s introspective musings on identity. It’s wonderful.
A New Reality Mind is a step to the left for Kenney. Where her 2020 Sucker oozed outwards with acoustic warmth, this album brings the listener to a wonkier, and distinctly electronic, soundworld. The forty-second ‘Intro’, with tine-like piano shapes that swell and bend out of nowhere, functions somewhat as a reset button. ‘Here’, it says, ‘this is something different. Forget what you’ve heard before and listen up.’
It is Kenney’s voice which is most arresting in her first full track, ‘Plain Boring Disaster’. Dead centre and up close in the mix, she speaks to us from the shimmering sound world of ‘Intro’, an almost cinematic illustration of life undergoing a new beginning. Her lyrics; ‘Well I might as well sit down and try… with no secrets left, or romantic alibis’, echo this idea of rebirth. She’s stripped all her defences back and is ready to appraise herself, whatever she may find. Kenney’s voice is malleable and varied, snapping from gentle musing to a sudden harshness. There’s a similar lurching and unexpectedness in the song’s structure, which merits comparisons to electronic artists like Westerman. The sound tangles and unravels itself, constantly shifting and reasserting its centre.
‘Superficial Conversation’ is another standout track. Bathed in choral backing vocals, the opening feels sticky and tactile, as if we’re wading through mud or some other viscous substance (in a good way, obviously). Soon enough, Kenney’s dazzling synth joins the melee, followed by throaty bass and another soaring pad, cascading and shifting into a great stomping affront of a song. Blissfully unaware, the vocal line glides coolly overhead, holding steady as synths heave and shatter beneath it. This fits the track’s lyrical message perfectly: the song itself is a superficial conversation, the vocal calm and almost perfunctory above the mass of energy below; everything that cannot be or should not be said. It’s brilliant to hear. Kenney really is a step ahead of us every time.
The entirety of A New Reality Mind was recorded alone by Kenney, in her basement in Oakland, CA. This isolation seems to have afforded her a remarkably lucid sense of self perception, which she uses again in ‘I Drew A Line’. The vocal explores Kenney forming an identity that’s palatable for those around her; ‘I drew a line. I stayed behind. Had an idea, of who to be’. Like ‘Superficial Soundscape’, there’s an eclectic, bristling instrumental sound world that contradicts any notion of conformity in the vocal: an almost tactile grunge drum beat, an Arabic sounding plucked instrument, a video-game soundbite, and Jeff Kolhede’s elastic saxophone. It works, honestly.
This album really is a fine example of multi-layered and self-aware song writing. Peppered with allusions to sight, vision, and dreams, it’s an introspective love letter wrapped in a parcel of shimmering dream pop. It’s a wonder she fits it all in. Go and listen. Now.