Bubbling with devotion and unbridled vulnerability
Susie Merry
17:35 22nd October 2020

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Back in March - and faced with a string of cancelled Big Thief shows - Adrianne Lenker armed herself with a guitar, an 8-track Ontari, a few close friends and a wood-burner; driving up to the mountains of West MA to record what would be her breathtaking new double-album, Songs and Instrumentals.

Confined to the limits of a tape-machine, Songs is born from stacks of syrupy vocals and chiming guitars, embodying the acoustics of the cabin like a Russian doll. Initially arriving with a wealth of material to track, Lenker put it all aside and instead wrote of the grief brought on by the physical separation between her and artist Indigo Sparke. As a result, the record is largely lived through the lens of the present moment: vivid imagery is punctured with soft remarks and noises from the room. We are invested as if the heartache were our own.

Our first taste of the LP came early September in the form of ‘Anything’, depicting the futility of putting heartsickness into words (“I don’t wanna talk about anything, I wanna kiss kiss your eyes again”) nursed along by hypnotic fingerpicking. The single is preceded on the album by the picturesque 'Ingydar', which chews on the passing of time (“everything eats and is eaten, time is fed”) in rich, beautiful symbolism. Bringing a sweetness to the subject of emptiness, ‘Zombie Girl’ likens disconnection to sleep paralysis. Anyone in-the-know will understand the unpleasant comparison, but here Lenker questions our natural instinct to fight it: “emptiness, tell me about your nature, maybe I've been getting you wrong; I cover you with questions, explanations, music.”

I refuse to believe even the most stoic among us could get through ‘Not a lot, just forever’ without forming a lump in their throat. A stand-out amongst the collection, it feels deeply intimate. Far from the resignation the title suggests, it’s a hymn that celebrates the splendorous imperfection found within the most perfect unions, fittingly followed by the short and tender ‘Dragon Eyes’, a wistful acknowledgement on the rarity of true connection.

In addition to Songs, guitar-led ‘For Indigo’ and ‘Mostly Chimes’ make up the Instrumentals portion of the double-record, each track a patchwork of daily improvisations. Their inclusion makes for good company, reminiscent of that friend playing across the room from you, complete with clinking frets and audible smiles.

Much like the rest of Adrianne’s catalogue, Songs is characterised by its purity of expression and an unbridled vulnerability most of us can only dream of offering - we can be grateful she gifts it so fearlessly.

Songs and Instrumentals arrive 23 October via 4AD.

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Photo: Press