Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker Shines On Pristine ‘Songs & Instrumentals’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Adianne Lenker has become one of the most prolific singer-songwriters today, not in the sense of sheer volume, as is the case with someone like John Dwyer or Ty Segall, but in her ability to release at least one album per year of almost unparalleled beauty and grace. Aside from her four stellar albums with Big Thief over the last five years, she has also maintained a consistent solo career. Her newest release is even split into two independent albums – songs and instrumentals. songs as with 2018s abysskiss, is a hushed and personal take on Big Thief’s rich sound, while instrumentals consists of two side long, well titled jams – “music for indigo” and “mostly chimes”. instrumentals provides some pretty accompaniment and considering how quickly Lenker’s catalog is growing, it’s nice to have a different type of album, one that focuses on the strength of her musicianship instead of her oft discussed vocals and lyricism.

Of course, there is a reason that Lenker’s songwriting is so beloved and that is evident once again on songs, because even on a seemingly throwaway quarantine album, she crafts each track with the emotion and discipline that she would on a Big Thief record. Both of these albums were recorded in April, while Lenker was holed up in a Massachusetts cabin during the initial lockdowns of COVID-19. Her accompaniment comes only from engineer Philip Weinrobe, who opted to record everything in analog, a decision that pays off with production and songwriting that reinforce both each other and their setting.  

Opener “two reverse” is a great example of how Lenker’s bare acoustic songs can still feel warm and inviting without much more than a few overdubs. Through the album’s frequent use of coupled guitars, light percussion and a highlighted vocal melody, she maintains a full and impressive sound, delivery her quiet longing and desperation in equal measure. “anything” the lead single, features what is sure to be the most popular and long lasting of these tracks, a beautiful love song, where Lenker accomplishes more than most musicians could with her voice alone.

Most every track on songs is working at or close to that level, making the album a worthy follow-up to abysskiss. In itself songs is a soft companion to Big Thief’s two albums from 2019 and an album that effortlessly captures the aimless desperation of quarantine. It’s not so much that this work pales in comparison to the work with her band, even considering their outsized reputation; it’s more that Lenker achieves something completely different on her solo albums. songs like abysskiss provides insight and context to the broad beauty of Big Thief, and when being herself, Lenker proves successful.

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