When a song is stripped to its basic components, the quality of the writing lies naked. Following that thread, Adrianne Lenker’s super-raw album Abysskiss shows her to be a songwriter of the highest order. The immediacy of the tunes on this acoustic record makes them feel like living, breathing things. Whilst amazing on record, perhaps the best way to experience them is at a show. Luckily, she’s playing YES’ Pink Room on the 17 January.
Adrianne Lenker is best known for her folk-rock band Big Thief, whose two albums Masterpiece and Capacity tell intimate stories about everything from primal romances to domestic abuse. Complimented by the nakedness of Lenker’s voice, these songs are nostalgic and open-hearted to the point that they feel like an old friend’s recollections of a shared childhood.
The same is true of Lenker’s solo work, the latest and most gleaming example of which is her 2018 album Abysskiss, which fans of Eliot Smith, Joanna Newsom and Joni Mitchel must listen to. Built almost exclusively out of feather-light finger-picking and whispered vocals, if any more layers were stripped back from this record we’d be listening to silence. And yet for all of its restraint, Abysskiss commands significant power, with Lenker’s excellent songwriting filling its 10 songs with 10 individual, living universes.
If songs can heel then Abysskiss is medicine. Recorded in a week, the themes of the record are characteristic of Lenker’s work. Like her first album, Hours Were The Birds (2014), there’s a palpable sense of catharsis as she whispers stories of a childhood and young adulthood filled with both trauma and love. Best experienced when you let them simply wash over you, her picture-painting lyrics and dulcet melodies carry you away to a soft and glowing place which, the more you visit, the more you long to return to.
As a number of critics have pointed out, whilst each song shines in its own way, the three that shine the brightest are placed together, right in the middle of the record: ‘Cradle’, ‘Symbol’ and ‘Blue and Red Horses’. The lullaby-like ‘Cradle’ probes existential quandaries via some of Lenker’s most seductive melody writing to date. ‘Symbol’, meanwhile, shines for the gorgeous tension wrapped up in its Jonny Greenwood-inspired guitar-work. Check out the video below for an amazing live version of that track. Finally ‘Blue and Red Horses’ is a beautifully naïve, childlike song which, though chorusless, digs its hooks in masterfully.
“Maybe the angel fired and missed”, Lenker sings in that last tune. Here, though, we find a Lenker who’s never been so sure of her aim. Clearly in the midst of a creative burst, there’s no better time to watch her perform live. And with that I’ll leave the ticket link for her YES show right… here.