Adrianne Lenker is in her most prolific season yet. Touting an impressive five albums (two with the folk outfit, Big Thief) in the last three years, she continues to dominate the indie-folk genre. Not only has her artistic output been impressive in terms of quantity, but also the quality of her songwriting and lyricism continues to impress. As the lead singer and songwriter of Big Thief, Lenker has found critical success with albums like 2019’s Two Hands and 2018’s U.F.O.F reaching the top of many publications’ year-end lists. In her solo efforts, though less popular within critical circles, Lenker combines the intimacy of Elliot Smith’s early records with the lo-fi production of more contemporary indie-folk projects. Throughout all her projects is an intimate connection with the natural environment and profound poeticism on the complexity of heartbreak, loss, and spirituality. Her new album Songs is no different, with Lenker penning another song cycle as intimate as the rasp of her voice and the wind through the pines.
Written entirely during the Covid-19 pandemic, Songs finds Lenker in the serenity of a Massachusetts cabin with her sister Zoë, and her audio engineer Phil Weinrobe. The remote location of the cabin seeps into the somber tone of the recording, such as in “come” where the sound of rain weeps alongside the guitar’s timid strums. In “heavy focus”, a track where Lenker desperately tries to hold on the remaining spirit of her last relationship, chirping birds at the end seem to comfort Lenker in her solitude. On tracks like these, the natural environment becomes a second musician, forming irresistible duets with Lenker.
Past their literal appearances on the track list, the intricacies of nature inform the themes of heartbreak and loss explored on the record. In “Two Reverse” images of rivers wind in and out of Lenker’s musings on past, present, and future heartbreak. One can almost imagine the river just outside of her cabin window inspiring her to write this song. On the hauntingly beautiful “ingydar”, she conflates the decay and reincarnation of her lost love with the natural environment. She reminds us, “everything eats and is eaten/time is fed” in her usual flair for timely wisdom. Her words settle over the listener as a warm fog, imploring us to look a little closer at ourselves and our surroundings before lifting up and revealing an expansive landscape.
Lenker has said recording in “the one room cabin felt like the inside of an acoustic guitar”, and this feeling is immediately palpable on Songs. Her guitar playing works in an effective symbiosis with her voice on the yearning “not a lot, just forever”. Like many other tracks on the record, this song finds Lenker meditating on motherhood and her wish to “be a good mother”. On the album closer, “my angel”, the first half of the track swallows the listener in her crooning guitar. All through the track list, the acoustic guitar envelopes the audience as if it were an oak trunk growing round them.
Like on her 2018 LP Abysskiss, Lenker’s songwriting is both illusive and elusive, evading any concrete meaning yet making room for us to nestle into the pocket of warmth she has sewn for us. On Songs, however, it all comes back to Lenker, as she says in an interview with NME, “When I write, it feels like a really loving gesture towards myself”. On tracks like “Zombie Girl” and “Anything”, Lenker brings us close like good friends, whispering her deepest secrets without a second glance. Songs redefines intimacy in a year when distance has become necessary, with Lenker inviting all (nature, the past, and even us) to bask in the sweet and somber all because we still can.