Release Date: Oct 23, 2020
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
Damn fine folk album Unlike abysskiss, and unlike Adrianne Lenker's work with Big Thief, songs is far from meticulous. It's difficult to imagine Lenker sitting down and thinking about what she's going to write. It's equally difficult, as listener, to predict what songs will entail. Sweeping, spindly guitars, sure.
The title 'songs' betrays overwhelming modesty on Adrianne Lenker's part. Instead of isolated works, the Big Thief singer delivers one of the most cohesive, decorous albums of solo acoustic music in recent memory. From a remote Massachusetts cabin, she weaves songs that broadly fit into two categories - the simplistic, melodic folk of 'Heavy Focus', even near-nursery rhyme of 'Half Return'; and the swirling, restless spiral of tracks like 'Forwards Beckon Rebound' or 'Ingydar'.
At the start of the pandemic and amid a breakup, Big Thief's Adrianne Lenker hid out at a cabin in the mountains in western Massachusetts — surely a good decision during a time of heightened uncertainties. For most artists, isolating in the woods to record an album sounds like a terribly overdone gimmick. But for Lenker, it seems entirely natural for her to recharge and reset among the whispering trees and chittering birds, as she has done in the past with or without the rest of the band. Perhaps it's how Lenker is able to write music at a remarkable rate, releasing at least one or two records per year since Big Thief's debut Masterpiece in 2016, all of which are adored by her rapidly growing fanbase and critics alike..
As many of us have again been instructed to return indoors and stay within the confines of our third-floor flats and suburban homes, we can still get halfway there thanks to two new albums from Adrianne Lenker , front-woman of Massachusetts band Big Thief . With a European toured abruptly ended by the pandemic, Lenker rented out such a woodland cabin amongst the mountains of New England. "The one room cabin felt like the inside of an acoustic guitar" she says of her first month alone there "it was such a joy to hear the notes reverberate in the space".
When Big Thief pick up their instruments, they like to face inward, standing in a circle. That is how they rehearse, and how they have recorded all of their albums: eye to eye and practically elbow to elbow. Even when they perform, they face each other as much as possible. Much has been said of Big Thief as a family, an organism, a self-sustaining ecosystem.
When it comes down to it, where and when usually fall some way behind how and why in most discussions. Adrianne Lenker's new records - a collection of songs called 'Songs', two long instrumentals called 'Instrumentals' - challenge that idea from the ground up. This is work of a specific time and place, welded to the circumstances that led to its creation.
The latest musical offering from Adrianne Lenker is a classic exercise in turning a negative into a positive. After her band Big Thief's European tour was abruptly curtailed in March due to the escalating Covid-19 pandemic, she returned to the USA and retreated to a rented cabin in the mountains of western Massachusetts. Soon, inspired by her surroundings and with the help of various friends, she set about writing and recording the songs and music that now appear on Songs & Instrumentals.
Big Thief's Adrianne Lenker has a craftsman's drive to create not just more things, but sturdier, handmade things that will withstand generations. Two of her songs from 2018's abysskiss, from and terminal paradise, were reimagined on the band's 2019 release U.F.O.F. These were variations of themes and with a bit more polish, but pointing to the resilience of the songs themselves.
On instrumentals, Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief works through a session of restorative musical therapy, enabling feelings of self-awareness and peace. Recorded as a companion piece to the more traditional songs while she isolated in a small cabin in the mountains at the start of the pandemic, Lenker sifts through a range of autumnal moods as she calmly makes her way on the acoustic guitar for two long, improvised wordless songs. Throughout the record, Lenker's nimble fingers work their way up and down her fretboard, feeling out the auras and spaces around her at those exact moments.
Having released a pair of Billboard 200-charting albums in 2019, Big Thief were on tour in Europe in early 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic put an abrupt end to plans. Bandleader Adrianne Lenker returned home to New York, then left for safer quarters in a remote part of Massachusetts upon learning of an available mountain rental near friends. Alone with not much more than her guitar in a spartan one-room cabin, she was taken with the acoustics of the space and soon invited engineer Philip Weinrobe to join her to record an acoustic album.
Photo by Genesis Báez songs by Adrianne Lenker Some musicians have the air of a mystic or seer, so unflinchingly committed to their craft that it's a touch scary. Allergic to the superficial flash of the music business, they make music compulsively, instinctively. Adrianne Lenker seems to possess such drive, whether solo or with her band, Big Thief.