Album Review: Adrianne Lenker – ‘songs’ and ‘instrumentals’

Posted: by The Editor


With the amount of material Adrianne Lenker has been putting forth with Big Thief, it’s unsurprising she’d be sitting on music of her own. Her new solo albums, songs and instrumentals, do not fall into the trap of some prolific artists – meaning, they don’t fall flat in contrast. This is especially impressive since the last we heard from Lenker were the back-to-back masterpieces of U.F.O.F. and Two Hands

The more traditional of the two, Songs is a collection of warm, textured music that seems forever tied to where it was recorded. Shuttered away in western Massachusetts, Lenker poured her emotional runoff from a breakup into songwriting. The “indie darling socks off to the woods to write an album in a cabin” narrative trope is often viewed with skepticism in the abstract, but it works nonetheless. We as readers and listeners love the idea of work in peaceful, natural solitude. These songs feel as isolated as that cabin, as earthly as the wood of its walls. Produced with Phil Weinrobe, they act as a matryoshka, the nesting doll – each one paring down the grandeur, yet never feeling like it’s not part of the larger work, sacrificing nothing. 

 “Anything” carries the insular warmth reminiscent of staring out at powdery, falling snow from the safety of home and hearth. It’s forlorn, sure – how could one not be moved by Lenker’s longing to be with her former love again? – but Lenker’s strums create a cozy environment. A standout of the record is undoubtedly the fragile, rustling beauty known as “come.” Quavery, plucked guitar is augmented here by field recordings of rain falling through the woods. Its lyrics, like many of Lenker’s works, intersperses generational dynamics – “Come help me die, my daughter / Walk me beside the river past the beach.” For what was shopped as a breakup album, one can’t help but read into this. If the field recording of that downpour conjures images of dreary nights, the birdcalls in the succeeding “zombie girl” is the glowing dawn light. 

On instrumentals, Lenker builds a world for herself to crawl inside. While she’s clearly adept at using her words to tug at our heartstrings, her talent shines even without it. “Music for Indigo” begins as a pacing pattern of strumming, only to gradually unfurl into a sparse landscape. The other side of instrumentals, “mostly chimes”, is decidedly one of Lenker’s less creatively titled works. It is, however, maybe her most interesting creation. Sure, it’s got lots of guitar at the beginning, but as that steps aside, all that remains is a vast chasm of sound. Crows laugh in the distance, wind chimes play in the breeze. The whole thing feels menacing, as though you’re looking out at dark clouds without any other signs of a storm on the horizon. The chimes’ joyous sounds luring you into a false sense of security – it’s immaculate. 

For better or worse, Lenker has entered a phase of her career that will form pivotal pillars of her legacy. Hers so far has been as close to perfect as a contemporary musician can home for. Two albums showered with praise, the two before it just as beloved. Songs and Instrumentals, while highly praised, seem unlikely to shake up that trajectory too much. Music with such subtle force could never hope to steal the spotlight from the chanting wonders of “Cattails” or the ferocious growl of “Not.” No, these albums are likely to be remembered as quiet titans. Figures in the back of the family portrait, drawing little attention, because they know they don’t need to. 

Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great /Phenomenal

Eric Bennett | @seething_coast

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