By baring her soul, Mo Kenney makes us all better people.
Written by Ida V. Eskamani
Mo Kenney breaks barriers in spectacular ways. A young queer artist hailing from Nova Scotia, she has been mentored by legends and recognized with an impressive list of honors and accolades. Her lyrics are earnest and incorporate the perfect dose of dark humor; her ethereal vocals fiercely executed. Stylistically, Kenney's cuts are kaleidoscopic and superbly dexterous. The singer-songwriter's latest record continues to challenge the standard, not only for its fantastic composition, but also for its courageous subject matter.
The Details is a concept album rooted in a difficult reality: Kenney’s own struggle with depression. In fourteen skillfully produced tracks totaling just thirty minutes, the record navigates dark themes: hopelessness, worthlessness, and self-contempt. We listen intently as Kenney discloses toxic relationships alongside a despondent existence and persistent alcohol abuse. Yet, just as clear is the melancholy is Kenney’s healing. As the record progresses, it evolves from a place of self-loathing to self-love; from shame to strength. This record reflects a journey that is extraordinarily common yet seldom discussed. Stigmas are thrown out the window, and we are all better for it.
The record opens with an impasse. In “Cat’s Not A Cake” there’s a relationship, and in the case that the relationship ends, the cat must be split in two. This is the wit Kenney is known for. Through her lowest lows, she endures with humor, albeit with a tinge of bitterness. To the delicate strumming of an acoustic guitar, Kenney bemuses “And I know / you’ll try to take the bigger side / but a cat’s not a cake.” With an electrifying riff “On The Roof” immediately follows, diving headfirst into isolation and self-doubt. “Maybe I gotta act tough / maybe that makes me feel safe / I got a solitary feeling I can’t shake.” Like so many tracks on this record, this song is genuine, vulnerable, and powerful.
Just as clear is the melancholy is Kenney’s healing. As the record progresses, it evolves from a place of self-loathing to self-love; from shame to strength. This record reflects a journey that is extraordinarily common yet seldom discussed.
“June 3rd” is a manifestation of alcohol abuse, and the desolation often paired with it. The vocals are elongated, paired with atmospheric instrumentation to create an audible haze. She croons “Hand me the bottle my dear / and then push me around / say things in my ear.” As the album title suggests, Kenney does not shy away from uncomfortable conversations. From track to track, she digs deep into the details.
At the half point, the tenner of the record begins to shift. Though the circumstances still dire, we begin to sense acceptance in “Out the Window,” followed by newfound confidence in “If You’re Not Dead.” The latter track is pure magic. The percussion is infectious and combined with an aggressive rhythm guitar, brings a sense of confidence. The pain is still present, but when Kenney declares “If you’re not dead / then get out of my bed,” she reclaims her worth. This track brings the unexpected, with a psychedelic breakdown reminiscent of taped looped effects of the 1960’s. Another superb cut, “Unglued” follows. To chords that bounce, Kenney exudes vulnerability and strength. “I’ve been feeling alone / so you better come soon / I’m not wasting your time / I’m coming unglued.”
Just as they were raised, the curtains of this record fall to a gentle acoustic track. But rather than bitterly slicing a cat into unequal halves, this final track embodies self-acceptance. To exact chords Kenney concludes “I like being alone / because I like myself.”
Stylistically, The Details is exquisitely polychromatic. The tracks flow effortlessly between genres, combining elements of rock, pop, surf-rock, soul, and psych, complimented by subtle acoustic ditties. The progression of this album and the story it tells is not linear. The tone of the second half of the record is decidedly assertive comparatively, but doubt and apprehension linger. Healing seldom occurs in a straight line, and setbacks are inevitable.
In interviews, Kenney openly shares her lifelong struggle with depression. Though originally resistant, she sought therapy as an adult and felt immensely better with treatment. The Details expresses this journey with endearing authenticity. For those who experience depression, this record brings immense comfort. For those who do not, it demands empathy. By baring her soul, and all the gory details, Mo Kenney makes us all better people.
Ida is an Iranian-American from Florida who grew up with the Beatles, and came of age in the pit. She will talk to you about music for as long as you will pretend to listen. She is founder of Bandifesto, a little blog with a big heart.