Adrianne Lenker - songs and instrumentals
Adrianne Lenker returns to the surreal pastures of her solo universe with not one, but two folk albums on 4AD this week - songs and instrumentals – both recorded during the same intimate sessions. Part of the healing process in a year that saw her tour cut short with indie band Big Thief, Lenker escaped to the mountains in March with little more than her instrument and some modest recording equipment to “make a record that sounds like the inside of an acoustic guitar”.
In doing so she abandons the ethereal atmospherics of 2018’s abysskiss to make way for a more organic, but no less endearing, sound. Using tape machines to capture the quiet energy of her surroundings, a sense of isolation breathes life into songs like ‘indygar’, which couples sensuality with brutal nature (“the juice of dark cherries cover his chin / the dog walks in and lies in his jaw like lead”), and ‘two reverse’, the tape hiss crackling beneath Lenker’s whispered melodies.
At times songs delves into the slightly witchy realms of sixties psych folk, whimsical and stoned on the whiff of juniper. While this is a huge part of the album’s charm, the cryptic lyrics are broken up with simple verses that cut through the imagery.
‘zombie girl’ and ‘anything’ are stripped-back and direct, communicating themes with obvious universal appeal. Lines like "I don’t wanna talk about anyone / I wanna sleep in your car while you’re driving / lay in your lap when I’m crying" show Lenker’s willingness to put it all on the line. Along with her confidence to embrace the stranger aspects of her storytelling, she weaves the more candid notes of her personal life seamlessly into the album’s universe and pulls it off big time.
A collection as gentle as songs can run the risk of putting you to sleep, but Lenker’s nimble finger work on tracks like 'half return’ drives it forward. Melodies develop naturally, twisting between shadow and hazy light in harmony with the lyrics. Most of the songs were written and captured in the moment at the mountain cabin and their organic melodies are evidence of this. Both musically and lyrically, songs is the definition of a deeply personal album.
Sister record instrumentals takes the form of two 20 minute suites, and while it’s not as engaging overall, it still captures the more contemplative side of the recording process. Slowly evolving from wind chimes and solitary notes into gentle guitar melodies, ‘music for indigo’ is an instant mood-setter. Along with b-side ‘mostly chimes’, it pulls back the curtains on Lenker’s state of mind at the time of recording, capturing a sense of healing in solitude and the feeling of letting go.
Isolation is something we can all relate to right now, and here it’s spun into something positive and free. While instrumentals is not an album you’re likely to consume voraciously, you’ll sink into its gentle atmosphere if you allow yourself to.
One of the more endearing artists on 4AD right now, Adrianne Lenker lands another killer set of folktales with songs, which brings the transient ghosts of past albums into sharper focus. Supplemented with instrumentals, it’s a perfect snapshot of a moment in time, and a timelessly endearing solo collection from Big Thief's premier songsmith.