Adrianne Lenker – ‘Bright Future’ album review: another triumph of human connection

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Adrianne Lenker – ‘Bright Future’

SKINNY: Sometimes, you need just one lyric to hook you into an album. The words that accompany songs should, in my view, be at least half the equation when composing tracks. However, more often than not, when listening to a record for the first time, trying to tap into the verbiage at hand can be a difficult thing to do. But, every so often, one couplet will jump out of the mire, grab your cerebral lapels and thrust you into the world of the artist. Luckily, for Adrianne Lenker‘s new LP Bright Future, it happens on track one.

“I never saw you cry until our dog died,” is the kind of heartstring-pulling line that will pierce the very soul of all those who have experienced similar pain: witnessing a formerly stoic person crack as the death of a friend equally as unable to express themselves sends shockwaves through a room. It’s a near-perfect line and confirms that Lenker’s ability as a songwriter is far beyond her ability to commune-friendly campfire folk and, instead, deliver tracks that are uniquely poised between joy and sadness, like the human condition itself.

It’s a necessary lyrical device, too. The rest of Bright Future is naturally sparse. Employing only a few different instruments, Lenker and friends settled down in a studio dappled with forest sunlight. With rich tones and organic nourishment that few albums can possess with veracity, the record feels like the very winds that whistled through the leaves. Uniquely perfumed with flecks of the farm, the marauding meadow and the river that runs through those trees, it is hard to distinguish Lenker’s musical output from the very earth she stands, gilded by her powerfully idiosyncratic vocal tones and wry lyrical positioning.

If you are worried that the entire record is a simple folk LP, though, don’t be alarmed when the groove of tracks like ‘Fool’ pushes on through and the unbridled morning light of ‘Vampire Empire’ brings enough sunshine to fry the titular creature. But, if you’ve arrived at the album hoping for Lenker to shake the airwaves with a new kind of vibration not seen in her previous work, you will be largely disappointed. The artist has a particular style, and Bright Future is a deepening of it.

Of course, if you arrive at this album as a fan of Lenker’s solo work or her band Big Thief, then Bright Future will be everything you wanted and more. It is a deeply personal album, moving a heartbreak into the rearview mirror, but coupled with an ability to provide moments of heartening humanity, all wrapped up in a musical blanket that is as natural as the fibres of wool it is woven with, as fresh as the spring breeze it allows to grace your nose and as warm as the hands that hold each other beneath it.

For fans of: Walking across the fields, foraging for love and maintaining a steady stream of sugar so the mushrooms don’t take over.

A concluding comment from the commune: “Finally, some pop music we actually like.”

Bright Future track by track:

Release Date: March 22 | Producer: Adrianne Lenker and Philip Weinrobe | Label: 4AD

‘Real House’: An opening song must act as the introduction to the artist and the album. Within a few short bars, Lenker shakes hands with us as listeners and welcomes us into the space which Bright Future occupies. As well as being perhaps the most emotionally fragile of the 12 tracks on the record, it also sets the scene impeccably. [5/5]

Sadness As A Gift’: Everything to know about this song can be found in the title. Of course, there is a smattering of melancholy within the tragedy-inducing violins and Lenker’s always-wanting vocal forecasting the end of a relationship, but there’s a sense of hope, too. [4/5]

‘Fool’: Things get a quick injection of groove on ‘Fool’. The tempo is raised, and the jubilant bounce provides a welcome antidote to the obvious heartbreak of the first two offerings. Still blessed with Lenker’s stylistic longing, it’s musically uplifting even if the lyrics are flecked with genuine sadness. [4/5]

‘No Machine’: “Baby, take my hand, let’s go together” is about as pure a sentiment as one can hope to muster in 2024. In a world where machinery and technology envelop our world, Lenker brings a visceral touch to our airwaves. [4/5]

‘Free Treasure’: It’s hard to remove Lenker’s music from the wilderness. Not only does she firmly place the lyrics within that cosy context, but she’s so musically delicate, like a vine quietly growing around a drainpipe, that it feels impossible not to follow her into the forest. ‘Free Treasure’ typifies that feeling. [4.5/5]

‘Vampire Empire’: At last, the sun has risen. A nicely placed ray of sunshine, ‘Vampire Empire’ may be reflecting on those who live a somewhat nocturnal lifestyle, but she delivers a stake to the heart with this piece. It not only enlivens the record but could possibly be the one track on the record that places Lenker as a timeless artist. This could’ve been plucked from or placed in any of the last seven decades and found a set of fans. [4.5/5]

‘Evol’: Bright Future may feel like an organic beast, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t cleverly cultivated by Lenker. For every rise, there is a fall, and for every tear shed, there is a smile waiting to catch it and not waste the water. ‘Evol’, a reflection on the heartache intrinsically attached to love, is a quite moment that speaks volumes. [4.5/5]

Candleflame’: Some songs feel like a one-sided conversation between the artist and listener. Lenker is simply sitting across from us on ‘Candleflame’, explaining her life and gently plucking the strings. [4/5]

‘Already Lost’: While there’s a lot to be enjoyed in Lenker’s solo-driven efforts, there’s something particularly brilliant about her joining her assembled bandmates. ‘Already Lost’ could be sung at almost every occasion an acoustic is present and feel worthwhile. [3.5/5]

Cell Phone Says’: Aside from the obvious loss of love at the centre of the album, there is an underlying tension as Lenker struggles to comprehend her humanity in the face of an increasingly faceless world. ‘Cell Phone Says’ distils that very issue into a singular and breathtaking track. [4/5]

‘Donut Seam’: A duet is a guaranteed way to grab the emotional strings of one’s heart, and Lenker quickly asserts her vocals with a powerful push that few can muster with authenticity. “This whole world is dying, don’t it seem like a good time for swimming, before the water disappears, Now our love is dying, don’t it seem like a good time for kissing, one more kiss” is a lyric for the ages and an encapsulation of Lenker’s new level. [4.5/5]

‘Ruined’: As it should, Lenker’s vocal takes centre stage for the album’s closer. As the sonic becomes more ethereal, the final lamentations of an artist bereft is delicately pushed across the airwaves off the back of a sizeable hook and a pop-adjacent chorus. Breathtaking. [5/5]

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