Thursday 4 April 2024

Adrianne Lenker - Bright Future

At only thirty-two and with her main output heading up the prolific Big Thief, Adrianne Lenker has just released her fifth solo album Bright Future. Julia Grantham takes us with her on her own voyage of discovery.

Hailing from Minnesota in USA, Lenker began songwriting at the tender age of eight and her latest offering is a wonderfully melodic mix of folk-inspired melodies and meticulously crafted lyrics. The album feels very personal, real, autobiographical and is wonderfully moving and refreshing because of it. This is a collection of songs that has real depth and yearning. It reaches out and entices the listener with its heart-wrenching harmonies, sung delicately with often the simplest of instrumentation thereby elevating Lenker’s tender vocals.  

The opening track, Real House opens with a simple piano introduction. With a minimalist sound, in places when listening closely you can hear what sounds like the creaking of the piano and subtle movements as the player moves. It really feels like you’re in the same room as the artist when listening along. Lenker’s soft voice accompanied by such light instrumentation really amplifies the lyrics. This is a song about longing to be loved, wanted and maybe even being neglected. It’s very moving and peaceful at the same time, lamenting childhood. Immediately obvious is Lenker’s story-telling ability. If you close your eyes and listen carefully, you feel like you’re there with her on a journey, a trip down memory lane. A rare quality in songwriting. 

Sadness As A Gift, as played on BBC Radio 6, combines piano, guitar and strings and has a wonderfully wistful and long poignant introduction. Immediately catchy, it pulls at the heartstrings moving breezily between major and minor keys conveying the tumultuous nature of relationships. This is a break-up song, and the use of long, unwavering strings really highlight the sadness in this track. “You and I both know there is nothing more to say” are the first words sung and set the tone for this sorrowful song about letting go. It depicts the various stages of leaving someone behind, and yet is coupled with an air of positivity too: “You could write me someday and I think you will” suggests a love that was not meant to be but one which will be hard to let go, making this song even more moving because of it.  

No Machine opens with a lovely finger-picking guitar melody, gently played like rain and giving way to a beautiful two-part harmony vocal. This is song about having a dream and going for something in life without letting anything get in your way. The line ‘don’t know what I’d do without you, don’t know where I’d go without you’ suggests a journey and fulfilling a dream with a loved one. It has a real sense of longing, sung with gratitude. It is very uplifting and full of hope. It’s a song about possibilities and the strength that can be found in having someone to love by your side in pursuit of your dreams. The beauty in this song lies in its simplicity and the harmonies elevate it to great heights. This is a standout track for me on this album. 

Vampire Empire has a real energy to it. This song picks up the pace of the album, opening with a frenetic strumming of an electro-acoustic guitar accompanied by a light piano-backing and strings. This song makes you want to get up a dance. If you’ve had a bad day and need to let off some stream, then this is the song for you. It’s an angry, frustrated track, describing that feeling of being so into someone who is no good for you. It’s about a tumultuous relationship and the song is about the realisation that letting going is the only answer. It’s very powerful. 

Already Lost is much slower in pace, and gentler in instrumentation. It has a wistful feel to it and has subtle but beautiful harmonies. Like most songs on the album, it is instantly accessible, melodic and full of meaningful and poignant lyrics. This song is a nice juxtaposition to Vampire Empire and sits perfectly on the album after the energy of other tracks. 

Ruined is a lovely peaceful way to end the album. With an ethereal sounding opening and instrumentation, it really highlights Lenker’s delicate voice as she laments the struggle between letting go and hanging on to someone. Much of this album seems to be about loving someone but knowing that the love is flawed. I think what makes it so irresistible is the poignancy of it. The vocals, the melodies and the lyrics are all very raw, very real and relatable.  

I had never heard of Adrianne Lenker before writing this review and hadn't delved heavily into Big Thief's back catalogue, and yet I feel compelled to explore her work further. She has that rare gift of being a great storyteller as well as talented singer, songwriter and musician. Take a listen and get lost in her words and voice. She really is a unique talent worth listening to.


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