Adrianne Lenker: Bright Future (digital outlets)

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Adrianne Lenker: Bright Future (digital outlets)

Outside of the experimental alt.folk group Big Thief, writer-singer Adrianne Lenker has run a parallel career which is dinstictive and engrossing in its own right.

This album is, at least on paper, her sixth (her previous, the simultaneously released Songs and Instrumentals album turned up in many best of 2020 albums) and has a typically interesting backstory: it was recorded in a backwoods studio.

That lo-key approach and ambience compliments these stark songs and brings to mind Dylan and The Band's “basement tapes” where they explored a strange kind of folk through new and old songs.

On the opening song Real House, Lenker weaves a six minute reminiscence over rickety piano, sometimes going off-mike.

Its unvarnished quality suggests she's creating it in real time and we're eavesdropping on a conversation: “Do you remember coming to the hospital when I was 14? My friends all left me there spinning. Dad was angry but you saw everything . . .”

That her recollection reach no convenient closure only adds to the mystique, and Bright Future captures that kind of crafted spontaneity.

Sadness as a Gift opens with a count-in and has the quality of a gorgeous, early Dylan ballad as rendered during his upstate retreat: “Leaning on the windowsill, you could write me someday and I bet you will”.

Like Dylan, Lenker spent formative years in Minnesota and her folk origins come through on the gentle acoustic, emotionally direct No Machine (“Don't know where I'd go without you”) and Free Treasure: “We lay around for hours talking about childhood things, mum and dad and past lives too. I can tell you anything”.

However there's urgency in her first draft of Big Thief's clanking, Dylan 1966-adjacent single Vampire Empire which gets a rapid fire delivery.

Lenker and friends (on violin, guitar, old piano and percussion) here keep the focus tight, even when an arrangement gets wonky, as on the quirky Fool.

But much of Bright Future has a sadness and caution about it: Candleflame might be a cousin of Jackson C. Frank's despondent realism of Blues Run the Game, and Already Lost wears its sentiment in the title.

Ruined at the end is a resigned confessional where sexual passion defeats self preservation in the dark basement where the lyric is located.

Bright Future -- which offers a different, very personal take on weird Americana -- is an album of emotional exposure, folk imagery, lessons learned and ecological pessimism (Donut Seam). But also a place where there's comfort and a lilac river.


You can hear this album at Spotify here

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