Gentle, woodsy singer-songwriter tunes
Others have tried to encapsulate her, yet they always come up short. She never fails to elude. Adrianne Lenker’s bandmate from Big Thief, Max Oleartchik, spoke of her having “confidence that there’s some kind of spirit or force she can listen to.” In her newest LP songs, this seems still to be true. Every track she conjures through her guitar, her “instrument of witchcraft,” otherworldly pageantries come forth through finger-picking melodies that seem to mimic the flight patterns of the winged menagerie thrumming in the landscape from which she draws. Her music is characterized by a signature stripped-down aesthetic: she has only her guitar, her voice and the serendipitous entrances of the natural periphery. This deeply introspective LP presents Lenker at her most vulnerable, splayed out and open raw.
The charm of the album lies in its analog, and liberal recording. The first track, “two reverse,” opens with Lenker’s preparatory shifting in a creaky wooden chair, a pregnant silence follows, then enters a warm, cascading guitar riff while a maraca keeps the pace. “Whoa, that’s cool” she remarks after an outtake she includes at the beginning of “forwards beckon rebound,” that song that contains the obscure titular refrain. In “zombie girl,” windchimes interlace with the notes of the guitar while the birdsong from outside collaborates with Lenker, Lenker delighting the ability to enchant the birds to join. A fly buzzes around the microphone in the coda. Or, in “half return,” she aspires a breath in the denouement that seems to suck the song back into that which let it out, refusing to sever it, leaving only an ephemera. She has a demonstrably preternatural command of her music as if it’s something more than simply music, more like an invisible entity only she can befriend and enliven.
Other than her complex multi-harmonic guitarwork, her lyricism and vocal delivery are what lends her that preternatural quality. In the transporting, almost psychedelic track, “ingydar,” her voice sounds less human and more like a sprite who sees the other side where the stagehands and essences reside, often journeying back to tell of them. “Everything eats and is eaten,” she repeats, touching on the theme of interconnectivity that also appears on “dragon eyes,” wherein she sings “I don’t want to change you/ I don’t want to change… you are changing me/ you are changing.” Everything is in a communal flux, she realizes. In “not a lot, just forever,” she again invokes the felt bond: “through your eyes I see/ the smile you bring to me/ to your joy I tether… intertwined, sewn together.” The found sounds from her natural surrounding still layer on top of her lyrics, showcasing her immersive connection to nature. (People can find her lyrics on her website against a looping video of a rain-flecked tree.)
Considering the natural elements of her songs, one might think she finds inspiration from the empirical. But, Lenker attributes a visual aspect to her creative process that comes from her interior rather. When reflecting on her mode of songcraft, she envisions “translucent ribbons flowing in a riverlike way–they’re multicolored,” and she’ll pluck some as they flow by, to “braid” them in. “Light blue, dark blue, gray/ crimson trail/ straight through, stay don’t stray,” Lenker sings in “two reverse,” seeming to select such colors from her inner river. She remembers as a child her father telling her about inspiration, “he would always talk about the muse and how it will visit you if you put your soul in a certain state.”
There are only two tracks in instrumentals. Both are improvisatory and were composed by splicing together chosen snippets of Lenker’s acoustic guitar. The first, “music for indigo,” slowly unfolds over time until a base riff is formed that she then varies in effortless ease. The second, “mostly chimes,” describes itself. Wind chimes delicately ring with Lenker’s guitar until it’s just the chimes being recorded while leaves ruffle and birds call out in the distance. It feels like Lenker is still there with people though, listening.
In Lenker’s songs, one can imagine her in a patch clearing in the forest, sitting on a downed bough hunched over her guitar listening to the gurgle and percolation of a nearby brook. Serenely she taps into an earthbound lode. It is as organic, elemental and lonely as the bucolic setting she draws from and gives a voice to.