Music Reviews
songs / instrumentals

Adrianne Lenker songs / instrumentals

(4AD) Rating - 8/10

Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker has a craftsman’s drive to create not just more things, but sturdier, handmade things that will withstand generations. Two of her songs from 2018’s abysskiss, from and terminal paradise, were reimagined on the band’s 2019 release U.F.O.F. These were variations of themes and with a bit more polish, but pointing to the resilience of the songs themselves. Recorded under lockdown and off the grid in rural Massachusetts, the simply titled songs brings more wares to pick up, ponder, and imagine how they might be reassembled by Lenker or others further down the line.

Like Dylan and Townes Van Zandt before her, Lenker is emerging as a songwriter who takes an idea and toys with it. She takes ancient paths to new destinations or revisiting her own previously blazed trails. Here, she proffers the glimmering anything as the next step from Masterpiece’s Paul and Capacity’s Mary. A verbose portamento tumble of vocals and chords implants the image of deep woods clearing: “circle of pine and red oak, circle of moss and fire smoke.” The childlike pat-a-cake cadence of half return is a furthering of abysskiss’ blue and red horses. The wind chimes and bird song backing of zombie girl make for a lovely reconstruction of Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man that Lenker sings gently into her subject’s ear.

The darker themes that were prevalent on abysskiss are revisited here on starker songs, like the knell of finality that permeates ingydar or the cold spring rain that colors come. But songs differentiates itself by providing an air of buoyancy even when laden with regret. The barren relationship hinted at on not a lot, just forever contains lines that bring a wince (“your dearest fantasy, is to grow a baby in me”), but are delivered with an open-hearted lilt that takes away some of the sting. The following dragon eyes, with its campfire percussion accompaniment, is on par with Lenker’s best songs to date. The powerful Forgotten Eyes from Two Hands is here supplanted by a softer take on those closer to her circle. Whereas abysskiss stayed on drearier paths, songs is as colorful and varied as her grandmother’s painting of wildflowers that adorns its cover.  

The companion album instrumentals consists of two extended tracks. The first, for indigo, is a scrapbook of strums and chords that Lenker can use as a sampler to construct fuller songs in the future. But clearly, songs is the more developed album of the pairing here and one that those already under Lenker’s spell will treasure and contrast to her earlier work. No band is operating at Big Thief’s level at the moment with two wholly different albums released last year. That their leader returns to record a deeply personal reflection the following spring points not only to Lenker’s dedication to songwriting but an ever-abundant wellspring of ideas. Repeatedly dipping in and pulling from the depths suits Lenker and her audience. [Believe the Hype]