Adrianne Lenker (photo courtesy of the Beggars Group, PR)
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Adrianne Lenker juggles two distinctive yet similar careers — her solo career and her work as a member of Big Thief. As 2020 winds down, Lenker has gone solo, delivering a two new albums, Songs and Instrumentals. (For FUV's "New Dig," we're focusing on Songs.)
Lenker, an Indianapolis native who grew up in Minnesota, started recording music while in her mid-teens, issuing her debut album, Stages Of The Sun, in 2005. Roughly a decade later, Lenker formed the band Big Thief. Last year proved to be a busy one for Big Thief, as they issued their third and fourth albums within five months of each other: U.F.O.F. in May and Two Hands in October. This year, 2020, has also turned out to be a year for pairs with these two companion albums appearing two years after Lenker’s last solo long player, abysskiss.
Songs was conceived in a one-room cabin in the mountains of western Massachusetts. The vibe of the intimate cabin conjured up images in Lenker’s mind of being inside an acoustic guitar. She was so inspired by the ambiance of the room, that she wanted to capture the sounds and mood of the space. With a little help from her friends, Lenker was able to set up a makeshift studio in the cabin, allowing the magic to start happening.
Although she already had some newly written songs to record, Lenker composed a new batch during the sessions. The onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the recent ending of a relationship both weighed heavily on her, inspiring the new songs as much as the setting they were conceived in. Each day, recording began and ended with improvised music played on acoustic guitar, and these improvisations were captured on tape, along with the songs that make up Songs.
Songs is about as direct, intimate, and personal as a collection of homespun songs could possibly be. Lenker reflects on the heartbreak of her recent breakup in “Zombie Girl” and “Two Reverse,” where she sings: “Is it a crime to say/I still need you? Crime, wanna feed you.”
“Anything” also finds her ruminating on her recent lover: “I don’t wanna be the owner of your fantasy/I just wanna be a part of your family.” She continues: “I wanna kiss kiss your eyes again/wanna witness your eyes lookin/I wanna sleep in your car while you’re driving/ Lay in your lap when I’m crying/Wanna listen to the sound of you blinking/Wanna listen to your hands soothe /Listen to your heart beating/Listen to the way you move.”
In “Not A Lot, Just Forever,” Lenker’s tender emotions are stripped bare, as she sings: “Your dearest fantasy/Is to grow a baby in me/ I could be a good mother/And I want to be your wife.”
Her imagery is often rich and abstract, as evidenced by the lyrics in "“Ingydar": “Early evening the pink ring swallows/The spherical marigold terrain/Sleepily, Venus sinks and hollows/The stationed headlight of a plane.
Lenker’s quivering, childlike voice has a unique presence to it, the result of using a binaural microphone to capture the sound of the cabin or the inside of the acoustic guitar. She’s accompanied by acoustic guitar, and the nuances of the space: a creaky floorboard, a bug flying by, birds just beyond the cabin's walls, the wind and rain in the trees. It’s as if nature was hired to be Lenker’s backing band. Listen to the falling rain accompanying Lenker on the deeply meditative “Come.”
False starts and squeaky fretboards also add to the immediacy of Songs. All of the songs are light, and Lenker’s singing is wispy. It seems that one light breeze could just blow everything away.
Instrumentals is made up of two extended acoustic meditations that were recorded simultaneously with Songs, including “Music For Indigo,” a 21-minute collage created from the improvised pieces that were recorded each day. Lenker meanders around her acoustic guitar to a changing backdrop of wind chimes, falling rain and bird songs.
Lenker received assistance recording both albums from Philip Weinrobe. Both are packaged together as Songs and Instrumentals.
Like moments frozen in time, Lenker has created a delicate and tender work of art with Songs, capturing the agony of broken love, the fears related to the onset of a worldwide pandemic and the tranquility of nature. The convergence of these life experiences are encapsulated by Lenker with small, delicate sweeps of her musical paintbrush. It’s art preserving life.
Listen to a brand new FUV Live session with Adrianne Lenker, on demand now.