Adrianne Lenker Bright Future Review: Big Thief singer finds heartbreak in the undergrowth

Sadness is never far from view on the wide-open spaces and campfire confessionals of Big Thief singer Adrianne Lenker’s new solo album Bright Future.

Adrianne Lenker

by Victoria Segal |
Updated on

Adrianne Lenker

Bright Future



“DO YOU wanna go to the river?” asks Adrianne Lenker on Free Treasure, a mind-body tussle in the middle of Bright Future. “I know this spot so deep and green/With wild raspberries and apple trees/And rocks to climb between.” It’s an invitation in keeping with the Big Thief singer ’s musical MO: spontaneous, a little wild, promising soulful nourishment. Even though they formed in Brooklyn, a nature-child narrative has formed around Big Thief, their music as pure as an upstate creek, their commune vibe generating an old-school, vegetable-dyed-in the-wool hippy aura.

READ MORE: Big Thief, Phoebe Bridgers, Lana Del Rey and the 30 artist shaping the next 30 years

Bright Future comes with another escape to-the-country backstory, Lenker uniting producer Philip Weinrobe and musicians Mat Davidson, Nick Hakim and Josefin Runsteen to play piano, guitar, violin and percussion in a woodland studio during the autumn of 2022. The results have the in-the-room intimacy of Lenker ’s best work; there are moments after the count-in to Already Lost’s wool-winding roll, or during Bon Iver-style environmental lament Donut Seam, where you wouldn’t be surprised to hear somebody getting to their feet to throw more wood on the fire and ask who wants another cup of nettle tea.

As a result, it’s tempting to imagine the songs Lenker writes – often, as on 2020’s hazier Songs and Instrumentals, at improvisational speed – are simply gathered, foraged, pressed out like water from moss. Opening track Real House goes panning through memories of childhood, just the rush of air and a translucent piano between Lenker and her thoughts about her mother, home, security (warning: the dog dies).

Yet there is a hardness – in every sense – to Lenker ’s writing. It doesn’t flow cleanly – it catches in currents, snags in overhanging branches, goes under and pulls itself up again. Heartbreak is around every bend. Sometimes it’s resilient, defiant: Sadness As A Gift is a fuller country collaboration, a green shoot off Love Minus Zero/No Limit, while the original version of Big Thief ’s 2023 single Vampire Empire is lusty, distorted and furious (“I walked into your dagger for the last time in a row”), as if it were shaken out of the same envelope that hid Lou Reed’s 1965 demos for decades.

There are more vulnerable moments, yet the Karen O-like Ruined could be a Show Me Heaven-style blockbuster in another world thanks to Lenker’s melodic gifts, while the half-lit Swan Swan Hof Evol reverses words (“Kiss spells ssik”) to express the slipperiness of love, its treacherous language. “Just when I think I couldn’t feel more/I feel a little more,” Lenker sings on Free Treasure, something that barely seems possible – desirable even – in the face of this raw, unshelled music. Lenker and her band, though, never lose control of these songs: the balance is precise, the guiding hand steady. It’s safe to follow Lenker down to the river, down to the rocks – she never gets lost.

Bright Future is out now on 4AD.

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