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‘Bright Future’ is the latest piece of Lenker brilliance

Adrianne Lenker combines natural imagery, fresh instrumentation in another excellent work

<p>Her latest album “Bright Future” — released March 22 — is yet another addition to her dependably fantastic music. </p><p>Courtesy of Germaine Dunes</p>

Her latest album “Bright Future” — released March 22 — is yet another addition to her dependably fantastic music.

Courtesy of Germaine Dunes

As winter turns to spring, Adrianne Lenker’s new album “Bright Future” is the perfect accompaniment to the changing weather.

Lenker — the always prolific lyricist — has been a mainstay of the indie folk genre since her 2014 debut. Over the past eight years, she has released 11 albums, either solo or with the group Big Thief, and one two-song mini-album called “instrumentals.” Every one of these releases has been met with a wide audience and critical acclaim. 

Her latest album “Bright Future” — released March 22 — is yet another addition to her dependably fantastic music. Combining lyrical poetics with her trademark alternate tunings and creative production choices, it’s easy to say that Lenker never misses. As always, the vulnerability of her lyrics blends nicely with audio samples of trees and birds to put together a beautifully poetic 43 minutes of listening.

The opening track, “Real House,” frames the rest of the album with its dissonant, creative soundscape. It plays on themes of Lenker’s childhood, bringing the listener back to her old house — a place we spent so much time at in Big Thief’s “Capacity.” The track is simple: Lenker and a piano softly playing notes and chords at seemingly random intervals as she recants moments from her childhood to her mother. Though it is a simple and personal track, it doesn’t fail to pull the listener in and tug on their heartstrings, setting the stage for the intimate journey into the rest of “Bright Future.”


Second is “Sadness As A Gift” — one of four singles released ahead of the album’s completion — which evokes nostalgia once again. Lenker chases after memories of an old partner, but always with her eyes on the future. Accompanied by a violin, Lenker delves into retrospection on love and how to move onward while still carrying the loss.

Another pre-released single, “Fool” is where the departures from Lenker’s usual form become the most clear. On her previous record, “songs,” a number of the pieces consist solely of Lenker playing guitar and singing. On “Fool,” she instead plays on more advanced production techniques. Lyrically, Lenker feels like a “fool” after losing her partner to an unnamed “him.” She lays out the very special life the two could share, but towards the end of the song cries out “Oh, just say what it is that you want.”

In “No Machine,” Lenker plays on the folk trope of vagabondage: describing her and her unnamed partner, running to where “no machine” can “eat away our dream.” From then on, she describes natural landscapes as a means of freeing themselves from the “machine.” Perhaps in line with the return to folksy tradition, this song features only an acoustic guitar and Lenker’s voice for a more intimate soundscape.

“Free Treasure” is one of the highest points of “Bright Future.” In what Lenker said was “one of (her) all timer favorite songs,” the theme of escaping the machine returns. However, this song is more intimate in its description of their escape, featuring a chorus of “Patience and pleasure / Time and attention / Love without measure / Love without measure.” The song takes the previous abstraction of running away from the machine and wraps it back into what Lenker imagines as pure, loving intimacy between two partners.

Next, in a reconstruction of Big Thief’s summer release “Vampire Empire,” Lenker removes the percussive elements from the original release and plays it quieter on piano and guitar, giving it less angst but upping the intimacy. The intensity from the original remains, however: Volume is replaced by quick, intense strumming which makes the song such an effective alternative rendition.

In a song I only came to appreciate after reading a Pitchfork review, “Evol” is where Lenker demonstrates the peaks of her songwriting. Playing on a number of palindromes, this piece takes more than one listen to grasp. Lenker plays another dissonant piano backing, which opens the soundscape to focus on her voice, which is still not enough to fully understand. For any first-time listener, I encourage them to take a careful look at the lyric sheet to understand lines such as “Dream is maerd, I'm marred in your mind / Four words: forwards, can't we rewind? / Speech spells hceeps, you say for keeps.”

“Candleflame” is where the album most strongly maintains its intimate nature. Conjuring images huddled around a single candle, she brings the audience to share about love and the number of abstract thoughts one dwells on when they are alone. Lenker delves into these same themes of solace on “Cell Phone Says” a recitation of her abstract, pastoral daydreams after receiving a call from a past lover.

Lenker shares her song “Donut Seam” with Nick Hakim, facing down the dying world with a partner. Together, they sing “This whole world is dying / Don’t it seem like a good time for swimming / Before all the water disappears?” Blending the climate tragedy with intimacy, they continue “One more kiss, one more kiss to last the years.”

In a brilliant send-off, Lenker’s first pre-released single “Ruined” is as painful as it is final. Crushed by loss, she opens the track the same way she begins the album, with a single piano note played, rarely changing. It feels lonely in her world. It’s a painful recap as she deals with the loving memories in the new context. While it does leave the album on a sad note, it’s one of the best songs on the album — no debate about that.

In truth, there are too many words to describe Lenker’s brilliance. No matter how hard I've tried, words cannot do the artistry and intimacy of “Bright Future” justice – you'll just have to listen to it yourself.


Dennis Carey

Dennis Carey is a Sports Editor who enjoys playing volleyball, listening to and collecting vinyl records, and poorly playing the guitar in his spare time.

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