Album Review: Madeline Kenney – “Sucker’s Lunch”
Posted: by The Editor
Since her debut, 2017’s Night Night at the First Landing, Oakland’s Madeline Kenney has felt destined for universal critical acclaim. With that record being produced by Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick, and it’s follow up Perfect Shapes being produced by Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, it just seemed impossible for an artist already so entrenched among a crowd of critical darlings to not ascend to their pantheon. For whatever reason, though, Kenney remains a clear underdog. Neither of those excellent records broke out of the industry echo chamber, but her latest, Sucker’s Lunch, has the strongest chance of doing so.
After an opening cut that feels slightly too droning and labored comes the excellent “Picture of You”, a song that does the best job of showcasing Kenney’s talent as a guitarist while letting her vocals wash into the background. While those swells of shredding guitar chords are lush and gorgeous, they aren’t used sparingly.
While this record is a technical feat, it is a bit of a chore for the listener who likes to play through albums in their entirety. Sucker’s Lunch conjures up images and feelings of a lazy Sunday afternoon with several references to pouring cream into coffee sprinkled throughout. Its tone is decidedly “comfortable” throughout, which while not a bad thing, makes it blend into a warm mesh. Some moments feel like they’re trying to push back against that, such as the wonderful, wiry guitar solo in “Jenny,” or the colder, more pensive “Tell You Everything.” The latter feels like it could have been a Hand Habits song in another life. Despite these moments of differentiation, Lunch never really switches things up enough to not feel like an Album.
Songs like “Be That Man” or “Sucker” lose the chance to shine as much as they could by being in the album’s context. They aren’t bad, per se, but they feel unremarkable because of how many songs present are already doing what they’re doing too. The album is perhaps a lesson that too much rich, full washes of guitar eventually get as cloying and sickening as overindulging on sweets.
Though it feels like a bold choice to have placed two of the best tracks on side B, it’s a choice that more than pays off. Kicking off the record’s second act is the captivating, shifting “Double Hearted,” a song flecked with marimba that gives it a spellbinding psychedelic feel. This is the first moment on the record that feels good enough to help set Kenny apart.
Just a few tracks later is the stark “White Window Light.” Until its opening lines, Kenney has been delivering every lyric in the same reverb-heavy lilt. When she suddenly drops this to deadpan “so what’s the point?” it gives the line immeasurable power. While it acts as a moment to rest, take a breath, and kick right back into the swells of hazy vocals, it also makes that question resonate. It is also a rare moment on Lunch with an honest chorus.
Kenney is obviously talented and has the ear of a lot of other people who share that talent. Why it has been so hard for her to amass the following of acts who sound similar but have less to offer is puzzling. Despite its tendency to meander and its inability to branch too far out of its comfort zone, Sucker’s Lunch has some decent songs and shows even more potential in Kenney than we already knew was there.
Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great / Phenomenal
Eric Bennett | @seething_coast
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