Adrianne Lenker: Bright Future

Adrianne Lenker’s newest album, Bright Future, is to be released on March 22 by 4AD. Lenker is known for her solo music as well as her role within indie folk band Big Thief. Made as a collaboration between Lenker and her friends Mat Davidson, Nick Hakim, and Josefin Runsteen, the tracks on Bright Future are reminiscent of a bonfire gathering where someone has broken out a guitar: Bright, joyful, inventive.

The album was recorded at Double Infinity on an Otari ½ inch 8-track and Studer console – an analog recording process in a room full of history. The entirely analog recording, mixing, and mastering process is evident in every song – listening to Bright Future, even on a laptop, feels like listening to vinyl. The ambient static and quirks add something charming, almost making the listener feel like they are in the room with the musicians. 

The album opens with “Real House,” a familiar but compellingly new introduction to the journey Lenker is inviting the listener on. On this song, as in all of her work, Lenker is equal parts musician and storyteller. As much as Lenker’s vocals and musicality carry the song forward, so too is it propelled by the narrative she crafts within the lyrics.

“Sadness As A Gift,” the second track on the album, is also the single Lenker released accompanying her announcement of Bright Future. Swelling violin pairs with Lenker’s plaintive voice to create a robust, heart-wrenching song. Lenker muses on heartbreak and the passage of time in her signature poetic style, singing, “You could write me someday, and I hope you will / We could see the sadness as a gift and still / The seasons go so fast.” Quite simply, “Sadness As A Gift” is Adrianne Lenker at her best – comforting and challenging all at once.

On “Fool,” Lenker moves from the fluidity of the first two tracks into a more staccato, percussive mood. One of my favorite tropes within Lenker’s discography is when she namedrops her friends without context; here, she tells us, “Tommy had twins / Kenna and Louis tied the knot / Zoë and B / Built their house on the spot.” I think the reason I love this sprinkling-in of names so much is because it highlights the reason that Lenker’s music shines for me: she spotlights the mundane and makes it special, or perhaps reveals that it was special all along. With her keen observation, Lenker forges a connection between the universal and the specific, using each to get to the other.

The sixth track on Bright Future is “Vampire Empire,” a version of which was also released by Big Thief. The song has quickly become a fan favorite among the band’s listeners, and the version Lenker has released as a part of her own album is sure to follow the same path. Listening to this new version almost feels like listening to Lenker covering her own song. “Vampire Empire” is propulsive and circular; the verses are nonstop lines of lyrics snowballing, interrupted by choruses with emphasized rhymes: “You give me chills, I’ve had it with the drills / I’m nothing, you are nothing, we are nothing with the pills / I’m empty ’til she fills, alive until she kills.” The choruses are punctuated by Lenker’s near-wail repeating “falling, yeah.”

“Already Lost,” the album’s ninth track, features an easy strum of guitars and layered voices. It’s warm and communal, sweet and nostalgic. “Cell Phone Says,” track ten, is an abrupt change. Backed by finger-plucked strings, Lenker’s voice stands alone. “Cell Phone Says” is not quite melancholy, but feels slightly lonely placed in between “Already Lost” and “Donut Seam,” which is also a more audibly collaborative track.

Bright Future closes with “Ruined,” which is a force of a song. Lenker’s vocals soar, plaintive and melodic, traversing her range as she croons: “So much coming through, every hour too / Can’t get enough of you / You come around, I’m ruined / You come around, I’m ruined.” With subtly powerful and lovely instrumentation and honest lyrics, “Ruined” is classic Adrianne Lenker, and the perfect last track on an album that is cohesive but not uniform.

These twelve tracks are a gift – somehow all at once a step back in time, a balm for the present, and a light for the road ahead. It is music the way music was meant to be: communal, creative, full of emotion, and technically astonishing. At once recognizable and yet completely new, Bright Future is a triumph for Lenker.

Rating: 9.0/10

Listen on Apple Music

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