Mo Kenney

The Slaughtered Lamb, London.

With support from Port Cities

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Mo Kenney is back, releasing her new album The Details on September 29th 2017.

Already well established as perhaps the most visually descriptive contemporary troubadour of her generation, it would have been entirely natural for Canadian singer-songwriter Mo Kenney to re-tread the ground of her previous work in the release of her forthcoming new album. Yet The Details is no such thing; gone, at least for the most part, are the acoustic guitars and the solo productions, replaced instead by an altogether fuller, more angst-driven sound. Kenney, it would seem, has found her rock and roll.

To understand the reasons for the sonic upgrade though, it’s necessary to understand the context of the album in an otherwise turbulent time; The Details traces Kenney’s own strange, devastating, and ultimately hopeful trip through the trials and tribulations of booze-fuelled breakdowns, clouds of depression, and disintegrating relationships. On each of its 14 tracks, she unflinchingly confronts her annihilation and eventual redemption, leaving nothing out. Truly conceived as a concept album, this is her most personal and cohesive work to date—combining elements of bruising rock ’n’ roll, vivid psychedelia, and haunting, left-of-the-dial pop, Kenney navigates the darkest waters in her life with self-deprecation, genuine soul-baring, and typical black humour.

Do not be deceived though; for through the darkness of Kenney’s life experiences, there came light at the end of the tunnel; a process replicated in the journey of the album itself. As Kenney herself picks up, “It’s the story of a depressed alcoholic who couldn’t keep a relationship going and was alienating their friends and family. That’s the basic theme. I’ve felt like that person since I was a teenager, and I finally started going to therapy to sort things out, and now things are better than ever!”

There are sufficient familiarities with previous work in order to delight existing fans though; long-time collaborator Joel Plaskett was the man behind the recording desk once again, and Kenney’s trademark lyrical incisiveness rings as true on The Details as ever. It opens with a calm before the storm as the eerie sadness of “Cat’s Not a Cake”—about splitting a beloved pet in half as a relationship falls apart—provides a deceptively gentle beginning to a ride that swiftly steers into self-destruction.

She comes to terms with her own toxic behaviour while channelling the late Elliott Smith through spectral atmospheres on “June 3rd.” With “Maybe I Am”—a reverb-soaked tune that turns to punchy guitar riffs—she realizes in the midst of trying to hook up with someone that she can’t interact with humans properly. The hazy, laid back calm of “Counting” finds her worried she’s fallen so far into despair that she’s losing her mind. And the vicious, rollicking “If You’re Not Dead” shows her playing warped mind games over feral guitar solos and biting hooks.

Somewhere along the way, Kenney finds herself dazed and broken in a place that not many people find their way back from. “Unglued,” with its breezy sway, is likely the most summery song put to tape about being fed up with your own messy self. “I Can’t Wait” recalls the gauzy dreamscapes of Yo La Tengo with a hushed and grateful understanding that as bad as things are, it’s not the end of the world. But it’s not necessarily smooth sailing from there, as Kenney struggles to stay optimistic with “Lights Out,” and sings about getting clocked in the face at a bar by some meathead during “Punchy.” Still, she can’t help but find the hilarity in getting slugged, slyly laughing through her bloody teeth the whole time.

“The album starts off kind of hopeless,” Kenney freely admits, “but with my sense of humour still intact, and gets progressively more optimistic as the album goes on. This album is the details of bad times, and then coming out the other side.”

Closing softly on the sparse, clear-minded “Feelin’ Good.” The storms weathered to get there may be the kind that leave lasting scars (or at least a few post-bar stitches), but with clear skies on the horizon, Kenney wears those scars as a reminder of what she’s been through, and the kind of seasons in hell she’s capable of enduring.

Her latest is a record of all those storms and the routes and detours and trials of pushing through them while keeping her sense of humour gracefully intact. It is perhaps an entirely logical culmination of a journey from folk singer songwriter, through the harnessing of her in-built tenacity and capacity for lyrical fearlessness, into full on indie rock; by turns rowdy, reflective, brave, funny, and deeply honest, it signals an already accomplished songwriter coming fully and completely into her own as an artist. The Details is an entirely open letter, vividly documenting Kenney’s fight to survive her own worst enemy—herself.