Album Reviews

Adrianne Lenker – Bright Future

(4AD) UK release date: 22 March 2024

Devastatingly emotional and vulnerable songs confirm the Big Thief lynchpin to be one of the most distinctive and powerful voices of her generation

Adrianne Lenker - Bright Future The rise of Big Thief over recent years has truly been something to behold, transforming them from cult indie folk outsiders to fervently followed, in-demand festival headliners. The vocals, lyrics and general presence/direction of Adrianne Lenker have been pivotal in this impressive ascent. The band have operated at a relatively prolific pace during this time, releasing acclaimed albums like Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, Two Hands and UFOF while also maintaining a busy live schedule but Lenker clearly has more to give creatively, hence the release of another solo album, Bright Future.

Big Thief have proved themselves capable of exploring both ends of the sonic spectrum, quite often reconciling the dynamic and amplified with the tender and unadorned but Bright Future sees Lenker very much in minimalist, stripped back mode, her songs backed only with simple piano or acoustic guitar. It’s a set up that continues to suit her well, the stark, emotional quality of her music being allowed to powerfully make its mark.

The album features co-production from Philip Weinrobe (who Lenker had worked with on her 2020 Songs & Instrumentals album) and also has discreet musical contributions from Mat Davidson, Nick Hakim, and Josefin Runsteen (three performers Lenker has also previously worked with). All five individuals found space in their schedule to gather at a remote analogue studio with the intention just to explore the songs without the promise of them actually appearing on an album.

The minimalist aesthetic is nowhere clearer than on opening track Real House where her quietly devastating, stream of consciousness lyrics arrive with the sparsest of piano backing. On paper it arguably shouldn’t work, truncated anecdotes of life minutiae and personal remembrances delivered in relatively freeform fashion, but this view discounts the magic that Lenker brings to her music. In short, it’s a profoundly moving opener, setting the standard for much of what is to follow.

Sadness As A Gift comes with greater weight alongside a captivating melody wrapped up in countrified strings. It has a timeless, effortless feel and is undoubtedly one of the album’s stand out moments. The clipped guitars and nimble pace on Fool meanwhile suggest more in the way of cracked vulnerability, the song offering a reminder of how adept she is at creating music for others to obsess over. No Machine may have a certain familiarity to it but still manages to feel fresh and while these early moments may be slight and tender they make their emotional mark immediately and showcase her extraordinary ability to write moving vignettes.

Free Treasure intersperses unwinding, folky melodies with moving lyrical confessions (“you show me understanding, patience and pleasure, time and attention, love without measure”) and she also includes a version of the Big Thief song Vampire Empire which sees the pace pick up, amid a certain rustic turbulence. The quality never dips, with the likes of Already Lost being slotted in quietly towards the end of the album, all visceral beauty and affecting sensitivity.

Ruined closes the album and has a simplicity and directness that really should (but probably won’t) propel her towards the mainstream. Bright Future consolidates the view that Lenker is now one of the most distinctive and powerful voices of her generation and these new songs will only deepen the intensity with which her music is received.

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Adrianne Lenker – Bright Future
Adrianne Lenker – Songs & Instrumentals