Adrianne Lenker – Songs And Instrumentals Album Review

4AD – 2020

Written and recorded in a cabin in Massachusetts after Lenker returned to the United States early after her European tour with Big Thief was cancelled due to the current pandemic. Lenker spent the months of April and May writing and eventually recording the songs with Phil Weinrobe that make up these double albums. As well as having the weight of a cancelled tour and global pandemic happening, Lenker had also recently found herself coming out of a breakup. Intending to take the time off from touring as a rest-bite to get away from the constant cycle of writing and touring music that she’d found herself in for the last 6 years. Instead she did the exact opposite, and from it bore some of her most personal and expressive music to date. Lenker has often shy’ed away from making her music too personal, but now she’s created an album that is completely and simply her.

Recorded using an Otari 8 track, the entire process of the creation of the album was analogue, without a single piece of digital recording coming in. This process allowed the album to keep that warm and classic feel of many folk recordings of old, but also allows the album to be radiant in its simplicity. Every guitar sound is bold and punchy, yet gentle at the same time. The rolling guitar lines of opener “Two Reverse” drive the song along and move the melody over the gentle chord progressions with ease and natural flow. Through all the gentle strums that encompasses most of the album theirs a subtle sadness to Lenker’s playing. Adding in some minor notes and chords just to throw in the added layers of melancholy. Lenker may be singing about love but below it theres a longing base that is expressed in the instrumentation. This can be heard throughout the entirety of the 21 minute instrumental “Music For Indigo”, with the guitar playing being drawn out to it’s barest, being largely improvised by Lenker as it was recorded. It moves from feelings of joy and elation, to that of quiet reflection and momentary pause, taking a second to take in the world around her.

The natural world also plays a large part in this album, and not just through the cover art that was painted by her grandmother. The use of bird song can be heard in a large portion of “Mostly Chimes” and rainfall can be heard in the background of “Come”. These added layers of texture from natural sounds helps amplify Lenkers soundscapes into new levels. An album that was recorded at home flourishes in its homely sound. These added layers can often make track stand out against other as sometimes the consistently sparse sound can begin to feel a bit too familiar in places without real variety in pacing or texture. Nature is also plays a part in the vivid stories Lenker tells through the lyrics as well, “Everything eats and is eaten, Time is fed” she says on “Ingydar”. A musing over the passage of time that is described through the decay of a dead horse. Nature is fuelled by the passing of other nature and Lenker’s songwriting is fueled by natural forces that are beyond our control.

When it comes to love songs, Lenker has always shown a vibrancy and poetic flair to her lyricism, and this comes out in full force once again on this album. “Intertwined sewn together, Like the rock bears the weather, Not a lot, just forever” are lines she repeats on “Not a lot, just forever” that juxtapose in descriptions. Comparing simple natural occurrences and happenings to spending an eternity together, downplaying the notion as if it were just another of life’s trivial pursuits. But when Lenker wants to be radiant in love she allows herself to be in full force. The swooning chorus melodies of “Anything” are simultaneously sweet and seductive. “I don’t wanna talk about anything, I wanna kiss, kiss your eyes again, Wanna witness your eyes looking” she sings in her almost childlike voice, the melodies dancing over the bright strumming. It’s catchy enough to be a pop song, yet delicate in sound and delivery to fit in perfectly with any of Big Thief’s latest work.

Keeping in the style of Lenker’s previous intimate recordings, but this time finding its roots in finding out how much you can do with so little. A homely sounding recording that captures the emotion of the moment, whilst everyone is forced to be at home, and amplifies the connection that many people have been making back with nature and simplicity.

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