Adrianne Lenker confronts death in beautiful new album

Adrianne Lenker’s new album, “Bright Future,” with songs such as “Sadness as a Gift,” connects the urgency to live with the certainty of death.

Many of Lenker’s listeners have planted deep emotional roots in her previous folk solo album songs. I was reminded while listening to “Bright Future” that I am one of them.

Her originality in songwriting, an unvarnished vulnerability and sentimentality, has consistently pleased critics since her band, Big Thief’s, first album in 2016.

Lenker is a poet to me, the same as my other favorites: Leonard Cohen, Rodriguez and Elliot Smith.

Lenker and Big Thief have become notable in the alternative music scene. Their discography has earned them five Grammy nominations, two for their 2022 release, “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You.”

Their genre stirs together folk and indie rock, a combination rising in popularity. Boygenius’ “the record” comes to mind.

In her albums “Bright Future” and “songs,” Lenker gave listeners access to the quieter and softer mind behind Big Thief’s grandeur.

Grandeur seems too authoritative of a word, though. The band doesn’t have any authority over me, yet I have such a commitment to them. It’s complicated.

The YouTube video essayist, Ryan Harper, better describes Big Thief: “When Big Thief plays, it doesn’t feel like they’re performing the music, but rather a conduit for it as if it’s not even coming from them but being harnessed in real-time — transforming the moment into something tangible. They’re bull riders at the rodeo hanging on for dear life, and that’s what special. They know their music is alive.”

“Bright Future” is another addition to Lenker’s folk collection, and I struggle to find the words to describe how much I adore it. I highly recommend it.

Her poetry intertwining with her melodies is so memorably sad, yet beautiful all the while. It’s overwhelming. Beyond her lyrics, the quality of this record’s sound stunned me. I can only describe the piano in tracks like “Real House,” “Ruined” and “Evol” as warm and romantic in a way. It embraces listeners like blankets and the warmth of a fireplace.

Lenker discussed sound engineering in an interview with radio host, Kyle Meredith. “The intentionality of Philip Weinrobe, who engineered and recorded the album to get the most natural feeling — like you are in the room, like you can hear all of those little things. Hearing Josephine sigh or my dog scratch at the door, or all the little happenings. We didn’t try to bury anything. I wanted it all to be there, like the listener is sitting right in the room with us,” she said.

The beauty of her guitar work, writing and the gentle cadence of her singing voice did not surprise me. I am starting to form an emotional bond with the record the more I listen. Lenker is so good at that, harnessing people’s emotions.

There is a Big Thief song called “Change” that I had to stop listening to for a while because of the song’s lyrics, “Death, like a door / To a place we’ve never been before.”

This line familiarized death too much for me, it made it feel too welcoming. It led the way to morbid thoughts.

In “Bright Future,” Lenker writes more about death. From the track, “Donut Seam,” she writes, “This whole world is dying / Don’t it seem like a good time for swimming / before all the water disappears? / Now our love is dying / Don’t it seem like a good time for kissing?”

Both songs make me think about death, or more so, force me to confront it, but in completely different ways. I like “Bright Future’s” way better because it gives me a cause for excitement in life. It embraces death without allowing it to consume life. 

“Bright Future” is an album for anyone who appreciates stripped-back folk acoustics. My first instinct when listening to songs, especially from writers like Lenker, is to contemplate the lyrics like poetry. Regardless of that, “Bright Future” is a beautifully sounding record.


5/5 stars


Featured photo courtesy of @adriannelenker, Instagram