Adrianne Lenker – ‘Songs’ and ‘Instrumentals’ review: Big Thief singer’s double release is a soothing balm

These records, one comprised of acoustic ditties and the other a musical sound collage with no vocals, speak intimately to our collective present moment

Adrianne Lenker, singer and guitarist with New York indie band Big Thief, has always found healing in the power of songwriting, and that has never been more true than with her two new solo albums, companion pieces ‘Songs’ and ‘Instrumentals’. After releasing two Big Thief albums in 2019 – ‘U.F.O.F.’ and ‘Two Hands’ – and following a tour cancellation due to Covid-19, Lenker sought comfort in what she knows best: writing and recording music.

These new folk-tinged albums, her fourth and fifth official solo album respectively, are not only a balm for her, but for her fans who are starved for live music, missing their families, friends and the lives they once knew. To craft them, Lenker sought isolation in a one-room cabin nestled in the Massachusetts mountains, where she captured the loneliness of barren, wooden walls and her winding stream of consciousness with her signature fingerpicking skills. With ‘Songs’ and ‘Instrumentals’ – the first comprised of acoustic singer-songwriter ditties, the latter a musical sound collage with no vocals – Lenker fashioned timeless, tender snapshots of grief that are grounded in healing.

Comprised of 11 confessional ballads, ‘Songs’ spotlights the warmth of Lenker’s vocals and the heartsick poetry of Lenker’s songwriting. Taking cues from 2018’s ‘Abysskiss’, her most last solo album, the record exudes a sense of melancholy. On opener ‘two reverse’, she sings, “Light blue, dark blue, grey crimson trail straight through / Stay don’t stray”. On “ingydar”, she tours the terrain with notes of “drying blueberries”, “marigold terrain” and “the juice of dark cherries”. Lenker also uses striking, natural sounds to illuminate a sense of grief. The splatter of rainfall on cabin provides the backdrop of ‘come’, where she depicts a mother’s farewell to her child, finding optimism throughout the darkest of moments: “through the jail see the sun”.

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Through even her most downtrodden moments, Lenker finds room for love, opting for a directness that marks a departure from the poetic metaphors that often cloak her emotions. On the lovelorn single ‘anything’, she is unguarded as she sings, “I wanna sleep in your car while you’re driving / Lay in your lap when I’m crying.” It’s a rare moment where the singer-songwriter lays it all bare. Toward the end of the record, the Big Thief bandleader leans into love and its never-ending uncertainty. Both ‘zombie girl’ and ‘not a lot, just forever’ oscillate into grungier territory, and don’t necessarily fit with the tone of the record.

While both of Lenker’s records are connected, they are also meant to be separate entities. ‘instrumentals’, comprised of just two acoustic-driven tracks (both around 20 minutes long), stemmed from freewheeling sessions between Lenker and engineer Philip Weinrobe at the start and end of recording each day. This accompanying record features slow-burning folk tracks shaped around the singer’s natural settings. With ‘music for indigo’, Lenker emanates joy as her laughter reverberates throughout the track, while ‘mostly chimes’ sees her lean into the natural sounds that fuelled the ‘songs’ portion, this time with birdsong and bells.

What Lenker’s most recent work reveals is that, like the rest of us, she is trying to find beauty and appreciation in the small moments, marvelling at her surroundings while mourning the current moment.

Details

Release date: October 23

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Record label: 4AD

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