“To the ocean of your love, I am a river”: Adrianne Lenker Has Crafted a ‘Bright Future’ with Her Latest Album

Bright Future - Adrianne Lenker © Germaine Dunes
Bright Future - Adrianne Lenker © Germaine Dunes
Bright Future’s diversity in tracks makes it almost impossible to traverse Adrianne Lenker’s latest album without landing on at least one lyric or chord that resonates with you, whether it be in sorrow or swing dancing.
Stream: ‘Bright Future’ – Adrianne Lenker

Adrianne Lenker’s music is a spiritual experience every step of the way.

For her newest album, Bright Future (March 22, 2024 via 4AD)​​, she made a pilgrimage to Double Infinity, a studio tucked in the shelter of woodland. Accompanying her were co-producer Philip Weinrobe and collaborators Mat Davidson, Josefin Runsteen, and Nick Hakim. The group passed around instruments, not marrying one performer to a specific sound, thus allowing for the fluidity that characterizes Lenker’s work. The album, recorded straight to tape, is occasionally flanked by the whirr of a tape recorder to give it a rough first-take feel despite its delicately crafted tracks.

I was lucky enough to first hear Bright Future at one of the many listening parties set up by Lenker, where the album was played on vinyl a week before release. Perched on a hard plastic chair in a Brooklyn church, Lenker’s music had never felt so divine.

Bright Future - Adrianne Lenker © Germaine Dunes
Bright Future – Adrianne Lenker © Germaine Dunes

The album begins with the gut punch that is “Real House,” a rumbling rumination on Lenker’s childhood and her relationship with her mother. After a burbling of hesitant piano chords and a warm scrape of the violin, Lenker asks, “Do you remember running?” She continues this narrative, slowly building an image of youthful freedom and melancholy. When she transitions from the “clarity of black space” and “cool wind” to the “real house,” she trills, “I wanted so much for magic to be real.”

This is the first moment in the album when Lenker turns away from the mic, or maybe leans back from it, demanding the listener’s full attention to make out the words. She applies unique weight to the section sung from a far-away place while making the rest of the song much more personal and direct in comparison.

Slowly, the mood picks up, and she tells us “You can see the sadness as a gift, and still feel too heavy to hold.” “Sadness as a Gift” begins with Lenker counting us in, building on that first-take feel. Though the lyrics are despondent, the instrumentals are adjacent to hope.

The next track, “Fool,” tackles the ridiculous nature of yearning head-on. The crisp conclusions of guitar strums and echoing wails lift Lenker’s voice as she drawls, “Feel like a fool walking downhill with the dogs.” This track invokes boots stomping the curb and snapping fingers. Lenker accesses her signature blend of breath and vocalization that blurs the line between song and being.

In “No Machine,” Lenker transitions back to a mellower beat, this time with more optimistic lyrics. This track is simple and heartfelt, with repetitive plucking that soothes like a winding stream, showcasing her ability to craft an image. Lenker does this by placing ordinary objects in an almost illogical contrast to paint a picture, such as a “Needle shining like a diamond in the desert,” admitting, “to the ocean of your love, I am a river.”

She builds on water-based motifs in the next track, “Free Treasure,” when she asks, “Do you want to go to the river? I know a spot so deep and green, with the wild raspberries and apple trees and rocks to climb between.”

Adrianne Lenker © Germaine Dunes
Adrianne Lenker © Germaine Dunes

One of the most highly anticipated tracks of Bright Future was “Vampire Empire,” the second release of a song Lenker originally wrote with her band, Big Thief. The Big Thief track took the live version’s original folksy plea and turned it into an angry, guttural ballad. Lenker’s solo version of the song is pure fun and illustrates growth in her journey from resentment to acceptance. She does not shy away from percussion, and the song is punctuated with the clattering of wood and slapping of skin.

Lenker includes the lyric, “I’m the fish and she’s my gills,” which was part of the song’s live performances but not the Big Thief release. The fiddle lives up to its name between verse and chorus, toying around with sound playfully. In the second verse, we are introduced to a fluttering piano that builds and recedes like skipping up and down a set of stairs. The new version of “Vampire Empire” invites you to sidestep through a field, to spin as Lenker does.

After demonstrating her sonic abilities, Lenker leans into her poetic talents with “Evol,” a mind twist of a track. The title itself is “love” spelled backward, and the song plays with this notion, a technique you may not notice without the lyrics laid out in front of you.

Time spells emit, who can see it?” she warbles, inviting the listener to look at the wording more closely. “Feel says leaf / Tips ease is sea spit / Teach cheat part trap / You have my heart I want it back.” By overwhelming this track with cunning wordplay, Lenker gives extra power to the lines that do not use this method, such as when she croons, “The giver takes, the taker gives.”

Adrianne Lenker © Buck Meek
Adrianne Lenker © Buck Meek

Lenker continues this wordplay with “Candleflame” and “Donut Seam,” though it becomes less sophisticated and more of a fun poke at the seriousness of “Evol.” In “Candleflame,” Lenker admits, “I see you pray I want too to / I want to one two four / Four five six bedrooms / So everyone can close a door.”

In “Donut Seam,” she grapples with the threat of our current times, where climate change threatens the natural world that Lenker shows so much care for. “This whole world is dying; don’t it seem like a good time for swimming?

Lenker frequently reckons with these concerns, such as in the EP she released for the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund, I won’t let go of your hand. In the title track, she begins with, “Seems we met just as the world was lost.” The contrast of delicate intimacy when everything else appears to be falling apart is a common theme in Lenker’s work and provides a comfort that feels personal and secure. Even when “it’s pouring acid rain,” Lenker asks, “Don’t it seem like a good time for kissing?

The final track, “Ruined,” was released before the album, along with “Sadness as a Gift,” “Fool,” and “Free Treasure.” The record comes full circle, back to the reflection of regret as Lenker recalls, “I wish I’d waved when I saw you; I just watched you passing by.”

We return to the mellow consideration that was introduced with “Real House,” giving this album a full and robust character. It differs significantly from her previous album, songs, which blends into one long, painfully beautiful piece. In Bright Future, there are clear shifts in mood and changes in tone. Tracks build on each other and then descend, much like the ocean or river Lenker always returns to.

Adrianne Lenker © Germaine Dunes
Adrianne Lenker © Germaine Dunes

Bright Future is an amalgamation of the best of Adrianne Lenker’s solo work and her work with Big Thief.

The diversity in tracks makes it almost impossible to traverse the album without landing on at least one lyric or chord that resonates with you, whether it be in sorrow or swing dancing. Lenker’s tour begins May 2nd in Paris, eventually making its way to the United States in the fall.

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:: stream/purchase Bright Future here ::
:: connect with Adrianne Lenker here ::

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Bright Future

an album by Adrianne Lenker

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