Neat Turns of Phrase: Haley Heynderickx at the Hi-Fi

Portlandian Haley Heynderickx Impresses at Indy’s Hi-Fi with Soulful Performance.

If you’ve read my last review, the Low Anthem at the Hi-Fi, you might recall that I liked them. A lot. So much so in fact that I had to write a review focusing entirely on them because I knew I wouldn’t have room for anything else. And, brothers and sisters, there was plenty else to write about. Low Anthem was not the only one that gave a great show on the night of the 3rd. Far from it, as it happens. Haley Heynderickx was also there, and she held the stage just as well as the Low Anthem did. Perhaps better.

A Brief History

Haley Heynderickx is something of a newcomer to the scene. Her debut EP came out only two years ago, and we’ve only just seen the release of her first real album. But you wouldn’t know it from the praise she’s garnered in such a brief span. In fact, Fish Eyes, the proper name of her debut, premiered to positive reviews from outlets as diverse as NPR and Pitchfork. Not bad for a musician who’s only formal training was learning to sing in church.

Her Performance

One thing comes to mind before anything else, even her actual music. Namely, Heynderickx is funny. Really funny. Maybe not up to the level of a professional comedienne, but pretty close. She wrung chuckle after giggle out of her audience, while  most musicians struggle to get so much as a snicker. In case you’re wondering why that matters, laughter like that is a sign that a performer has really connected with their audience.

And boy oh boy did she connect. Like any good folkie, her stage presence was warm and intimate. Ideal, since confessional lyrics is a vital component of folk, and intimacy is a vital component of confession. Listening to her was like listening to an old friend describe thoughts and feelings that they wouldn’t dare tell anyone else. Not in a voyeuristic way, one hastens to add. Voyeurism, by its very nature, is a solitary occupation in which observer holds themselves aloof from the observed. The observer, furthermore, does this because they don’t identify with the observed. In the sort of situation Heynderickx creates, observer and observed create a partnership, because the more a singer like her tells about herself, the more you feel what she feels. Something which, incidentally, also tends to coax rapt attention from an audience.

Her Sound

According to Heynderickx, her two chief influences are Leo Kottke and John Fahey. It certainly shows in her guitar style, which evokes summer scenes and gentle moments as much as Kottke’s did. Plus, she’s a fingerstyle player like both were.

In practice, her melodies tend to wander a little. This is not a criticism, as it creates a sense of spontaneity ultimately enhances her performance. Moreover, her compositions are highly melodic in nature which makes them easy to listen to in any event. Her vocal work is also appealing. She possesses a sort of lilting alto which, while far from unique (hey there Suzanne Vega and Tracey Chapman), is nonetheless well-suited to her material. And she doesn’t stop a mere singing either. She often accents her phrasing with almost Morrissey-like flutters on the end of a line, and frequently uses vibrato as well. The cumulative effect is delicate, gossamer even. Just listening to her music while ignoring her lyrics brings to mind images of gardens in summer and cafes bathed in morning sunlight. But why would you want to ignore her lyrics?

Lyrically she has much to recommender her by. With lines like “And there’s a praying mantis prancing on your bathtub/and you swear it’s out to get you”, both whimsical and deliciously paranoid, you would do well indeed to give her material a close listen. Wistful, warm, and just a little bit weird. And yes, perhaps verging on twee if she doesn’t watch it. Even so, she has enough clever turns of phase to keep her quirkiness from becoming annoying.

Final Thoughts

I honestly could have left the Hi-Fi happy after having just seen Heynderickx and skipped the Low Anthem altogether. Not that I would have, of course, but I still would have felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth and then some. Haley Heynderickx is a more than worthwhile performer and will probably go on to bigger things. After all, an ability to connect with an audience is fundamental to a performer’s success and she has that part down. There’s still room to improve, of course, but she’s off to a strong start. It will be very interesting to see how she develops over her career.

Keep listening everybody.





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