Arts and Entertainment

Adrianne Lenker’s Bright Future

Reviewing Adrianne Lenker’s new album, Bright Future.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“It is a gift so bitter that you brought to me / ‘cause I feel what they’re feeling, and I know that they’re free.” These are the magnetic words of Adrianne Lenker’s sixth studio album, Bright Future. Lenker is the lead vocalist and guitarist of Big Thief, a band whose warm folk-rock style achieved critical acclaim through their Grammy-nominated album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You (2022). Lenker’s solo music projects are more casual; each album is often an archive of her own experiences and memories. Her past solo projects were spontaneous records produced and inspired by her friends. Her diptych albums, songs (2020) and instrumentals (2020), were sung and recorded mostly on the spot. Lenker’s solo work offers a rebuttal to the noise and density of the Big Thief family’s discography. 

Lenker has always been a poignant storyteller and lyricist, and Bright Future not only proves this gift but reflects on its power. The album is a tribute to the complexities of memory, gaining significant metaphysicality as Lenker also reflects on the meaning of the writing process. Her lyricism is tender and meditative, utilizing intertwined metaphors and natural imagery. She tells stories of living amongst nature, recognizing the toll of change on the environment. Lenker navigates Bright Future’s themes of change and growth with a deft touch, crafting songs that are at once deeply personal and profoundly universal.

The most overt representation of change in Bright Future is Lenker’s revisitation of Big Thief’s “Vampire Empire.” She offers a subversion of the fan-favorite single by stripping the track’s original heavy-set percussion and embracing unpolished, throaty vocals. Halfway through, a fast-paced string solo permeates Lenker’s vocals. The addition of this Big Thief  “cover” in the middle of the album is jolting, the scratchy noise fading immediately after the last notes, never to be revisited in later tracks. However, the revision of “Vampire Empire” speaks to the culture of Big Thief: rehearsing and re-releasing songs in varying contexts, maximizing their spontaneity and authenticity. 

Bright Future departs stylistically from Lenker’s previous albums as she adopts a newfound country twang, even donning a cowboy hat on the album’s cover. Tracks like “Already Lost” embrace gritty guitar picking and plucky banjo. Lenker draws influences from bluegrass and Americana genres while simultaneously inserting aspects of her own softer style. “Fool” is similar in its country musicality, adopting a positivity and weightlessness rare for Lenker. She plays with vibrato voice effects as she hums and hits high notes, accompanied by echoing banjo chords. The song’s accompanying music video features Lenker’s friends dancing and spinning in cowboy hats in an act of pure, unabridged joy. 

The entirety of Bright Future was recorded on a single tape recorder, imbuing the album with a sense of authenticity and warmth through its intimately remote production. Though there are whispers of symphonic instruments throughout the album, Lenker mostly remains true to her stylistic rawness. In this vein, the instrumentation often feels monotonous, but Lenker’s rich vocals certainly make up for it. Her voice is delicate and resonant, warbling with every lyric. Single guitar chords follow her voice, until the album’s closer, “Ruined,” in which slow and sturdy piano keys create a new sonic depth. Similarly, in “Sadness As A Gift,” Lenker plays with more unique details; she counts off in the first few seconds of the song, an endearing detail harkening back to the loose recording process of the album. Steady banjo chords weave around Lenker’s voice as she enunciates each syllable with a profound heaviness, showcasing her vocal range. In “Evol,” Lenker’s voice vibrates as she examines change in a romantic relationship. The song reads like a poem, playing with palindromes and semordnilaps, words that represent different meanings when reversed. Lenker sings “Dream is maerd, I’m marred in your mind / Four words: forwards, can’t we rewind?” “Evol” is Bright Future’s most lyrically abstract track, while the rest of the album’s imagery is devastatingly blunt. In the album’s opener, “Real House,” Lenker recounts her childhood with a deep grief: “And you made me laugh as the nurses undressed me / You held my hand as they put the needle in me.” The song has no chorus or succinct rhythm; opening with such a scattered and emotionally intense ballad was a risk. However, “Real House'' proves itself to be a fitting opener, preparing the listener for the emotional progression to come. The album’s title speaks to Lenker’s journey, learning how to process heartbreak, grief, and nostalgia by making music.

In  Bright Future, Adrianne Lenker emerges as both a storyteller and a guide. Each track unfurls like a chapter from a diary, intimate yet enigmatic, inviting listeners into the sanctity of her inner thoughts. Lenker’s newfound warmth foreshadows a “bright future” for her music.