1. Madeline Kenney – ”Cut Me Off”
The discography of Madeline Kenney contains multitudes. You don’t need to find every detail in order to enjoy the music. Her sophomore LP came out this year to a swell of support that seemed to follow me around; I encountered songs from Perfect Shapes on other blogs I love, well-circulated playlists, and even through the speakers at a Halloween party. I would have put the album on my own extensive year-end list, had I not found a loophole to give detailed praise to one of the year’s best songs and unquestionably its best video. “Cut Me Off” will resonate for years to come.
I wouldn’t recommend reading this short essay before watching the video to the very end. Because my first note is about Kenney’s foray into comedy. The cut-off gag is never not funny and honestly, we should have seen it coming, given the premise of the song in the first place. The album isn’t necessarily filled with jokes but the energy is light enough to keep a smile sprawled across your face. There are moments that are conceptually funny but may never elicit a laugh, such as on “The Flavor of the Fruit Tree,” which features a clip of her singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” in reverse.
All of Perfect Shapes is a delight but “Cut Me Off” is the triumph. There are many layers to both the song and the video that represent it. From the title alone, the track comes across as resilient and feminist, and when you listen, it becomes even more relevant to her fellow musicians: “So don’t cut me off / I’m in my own time.” I love when prepositions are important—in this sentence, “in” indicates that the referred to ‘time’ is not just the forward movement of life, but instead a pace that dictates the rhythm of a song and, more broadly, of life itself.
Kenney is the boss in the video. She marches down the hallways, signing documents and giving stink-eye feedback to her assistants. She leads a meeting to the beat of a crosswalk signal counting down. Don’t cut her off, she warns, or there will be consequences; gone are the days when women are routinely disrespected in the workplace, at least in this fantasy bubble.
As a seasoned musician, Kenney could have highlighted some of the more complex musical parts of the song to show off her prowess. Instead, the only shredding we get is when Kenney picks at the ubiquitous three-note rhythm. There is some great choreography between cubicles and on office tables that adds some extra flavor, but every note and movement is weighed with humility.
Because the crosswalk voice is the first we hear in the song, “Cut Me Off” is always playing in my head as I walk around the city. By proxy, it soundtracked a short vacation I took to visit a friend in Minneapolis. Those memories, the brilliant song, and the even more brilliant video make it my favorite of this year.