Published Oct 20, 2020At the start of the pandemic and amid a breakup, Big Thief's Adrianne Lenker hid out at a cabin in the mountains in western Massachusetts — surely a good decision during a time of heightened uncertainties. For most artists, isolating in the woods to record an album sounds like a terribly overdone gimmick. But for Lenker, it seems entirely natural for her to recharge and reset among the whispering trees and chittering birds, as she has done in the past with or without the rest of the band. Perhaps it's how Lenker is able to write music at a remarkable rate, releasing at least one or two records per year since Big Thief's debut Masterpiece in 2016, all of which are adored by her rapidly growing fanbase and critics alike.
This time around, Lenker recorded not one but two new solo albums, appropriately titled songs and instrumentals. The former is a collection of visceral tunes featuring only acoustic guitar and Lenker's soft-spoken voice. The freshness of the mountain air seems to permeate these incredibly raw recordings, as Lenker aligns her nurturing candor with internal healing and reckoning.
"dragon eyes" is thoroughly grieving, with an effortlessly fluid melody recorded as if Lenker were quietly strumming right next to you as she tenderly weeps, "as the coastline is shaped by the wind, as we make love and you're on my skin, you are changing me." Similarly exuding similar grace, "ingydar" is hopeful with Lenker gently playing her guitar in time with the gradual pace of the nature around her. Lenker's observational words wrap around peculiar tempos, creating intense imagery that is dripping in nuance. The way Lenker softly sings lines like "the juice of dark cherries cover his chin" and "chewing a cigarette and repeating shadows of words I said" evoke an understanding that there is an unspoken, heavier meaning than the commonplace yet tender moments on the surface.
Lenker's songwriting is driven by her intuitive sense of emotion and spirituality, intertwining them in ways that become grounded and tangible. "come" begins with the pitter patters of raindrops and Lenker zeroing in on a mood that feels transparent and right on her acoustic guitar, techniques that she later explores further on instrumentals. On album closer "my angel," Lenker methodically works her way through spindly guitar before focussing on the repeated refrain of the title of the song, a reflection on an ex-lover.
It's easy to imagine Lenker's delicate, finger-picked songs like "two reverse" and "anything" being turned into full-fleshed Big Thief tunes with the simple crackle of a snare or scraggly electric guitar garnish, but for now they are naked and beautiful — a moment of mending for Lenker untouched by reinterpretation. Lenker's work continues to reimagine love and loss, and albums like songs are her way of turning those complex emotions into something timeless. (4AD)