Haley Heynderickx Credit: Alessandra Leimer

Sometimes the most effective songwriting doesn’t attempt any artifice grander than capturing half a day in somebody’s mental process. On this month’s I Need to Start a Garden (Mama Bird), promising Portland singer-songwriter Haley Heynderickx sometimes sounds like she’s simply thinking out loud. The strummy “Oom Sha La La” accelerates and decelerates in fits and starts, summoning the loose, squirrelly vibe of early Modern Lovers, and Heynderickx keeps repeating “The milk is sour,” as though she’s been holed up at home for too long and she’s going stir-crazy.

Her strings of non sequiturs suggest that she’s trying to write a song without any particular motivation or vision, just spitting out lines because they sound good and might lead somewhere. In the last half of the song, she seems to come to her senses: “If you don’t go outside, well, nothing’s going to happen / She’ll never write her number on a crumpled-up napkin.” She rouses herself, throwing out the milk and singing, “I’m tired of my mind getting heavy with mold.” In the end she decides, “I’m going to start a garden in my backyard, ’cause making this song up is just as hard.”
“Oom Sha La La” worked its charms on me slowly—it took me a few listens to catch up with what the song is doing—and everything else on the record seems to approach the listener indirectly too. Heynderickx’s piercing but pleasing voice—a bit more biting than Angel Olsen’s, with some of Leslie Feist’s fluid phrasing—conveys plenty with its articulation. On the sparse opening track, “No Face,” she confronts a gutless partner who’s scuttled a relationship by failing to communicate problems—she quietly but forcefully asks why this person felt so alone. On “The Bug Collector” she uses an odd conceit to tell a story from the point of view of a woman who can’t please her lover. She’s trying to provide “the perfect morning,” but she ends up having to dispatch all sorts of creepy-crawly intruders on their domestic scene—a centipede, a praying mantis, a millipede—and in the end she sings, “I try my best to prove that nothing’s out to get you.”

Heynderickx is also a virtuosic but modest guitarist, forgoing solos in favor of moods, which she conjures with delicate arpeggios, spindly filigrees, and shimmering surges of sound. On “Show You a Body” her guitar combines with the piano of Lily Breshears to produce rushes of notes that rise and fall in organic tumbles like gusts of wind. She makes her Chicago debut tonight at Lincoln Hall, opening for the Low Anthem.

Today’s playlist:

Isaiah Ceccarelli, Bow (Another Timbre)
Mari Samuelsen, Nordic Noir (Decca)
Eric Hofbauer Quintet, Prehistoric Jazz—Volume 3: Three Places in New England (Creative Nation Music)
Nathan Bowles, Whole & Cloven (Paradise of Bachelors)
Gérard Grisey, Quatre Chants Pour Franchir le Seuil (Kairos)