On her self-produced EP, Summer Quarter, Madeline Kenney untangles moments of existential doubt and experiments with genre. After touring was cancelled following her album Sucker’s Lunch, Kenney was confronted by an extended period of unplanned time, sending her down a rabbit hole to reflect on where she ended up. She thus shifted her focus to conducting a study of new sonic interests and experimental production, a rare opportunity that could only present itself as time slowed down. The songs on Summer Quarter echo and ripple as she meanders between worldly questions and intimate observations, recording the loops that occur when you have almost too much time to think.
Kenney’s career has been notably dotted with collaborators like Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak and Chaz Bear of Toro y Moi, but this work is the first that is entirely produced by Kenney herself; all recorded in her windowless basement in Oakland, CA. With Summer Quarter, she is able to showcase her musical curiosity, letting herself experiment with soft synths and vocal treatments previously unassociated with her catalog. She stitches together dreamy sounds that both harmonize and contrast, pushing against the constraints that genres inherently assert. As she explores deeper into new musical territory, she unpacks the profound realization that life hasn’t turned out the way she expected. On the track “Wasted Time” she sings “So far/I’m going over everything /I care/But only when I’m suffering,” looking for ways forward through an existential fog.
Madeline Kenney can make the most intimate and introspective of subjects still articulate the universal feelings that hide in people’s minds. Summer Quarter is not only an exposition of Madeline Kenney’s curiosity for music, but also a means to pause and wonder about how the world seems to just carry on, no matter how hard we try to catch up.
Oakland’s Madeline Kenney bounds toward the unknown on her iridescent third album, Sucker’s Lunch. The songs swell and lament, expanding the idea of a love song into something more grounded in self-awareness and philosophy than blind devotion. Sucker’s Lunch is the follow-up to 2018’s critically acclaimed Perfect Shapes, which Pitchfork described as Kenney “stepping onto the pedestal of her own design.” Her sonic world is that of colorful harmonies, dramatic lyrics, and thick layers of guitar, having shifted and become more astute in this most recent work.
Kenney has a history of fostering collaborative recording and touring relationships, notably working on projects of her own with both Wye Oak and Toro y Moi. Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak) and Kenney first collaborated on Perfect Shapes in 2018, and they teamed up again for Sucker’s Lunch, with Wye Oak and Kenney as co-producers. Chaz Bear of Toro y Moi produced Kenney’s Signals EP and debut record Night Night At The First Landing, putting both out on his label, Company Records. Kenney has also lent vocals on multiple Toro y Moi projects, including 2017’s Boo Boo. In 2019 she released the split EP, The Sisters / Helpless in collaboration with Flock of Dimes (Wasner’s solo project). With a keen eye for visual narrative, Kenney also has provided direction for music videos for artists including Hand Habits, Boy Scouts, and A.O. Gerber.
Usually not one to write devotional love songs, a twist in circumstance found Kenney falling head first into love and music as if they were one and the same. The ten songs that comprise Sucker’s Lunch came together swiftly and decisively, often in bursts when Kenney was alone and gently losing her mind in her former home in Durham, NC. Between tours with Soccer Mommy, Wye Oak, Jay Som and Lord Huron, Kenney wrote and recorded Sucker’s Lunch in Durham, NC and Oakland, CA, finishing the album in a few compact sessions. The resulting record is a dedication to the rewards that supposed “foolishness” — in art, love, and music – can bring. Kenney’s determined visual sense for storytelling came into play in the direction of both the cover image and the accompanying music videos.
With every project Kenney pursues, she continues to shine in her ability to speak the strange, ambiguous, impossible truths — and Sucker’s Lunch is no exception, providing us with nothing less than a balanced meal for the wise fool in us all.