Review Summary: Damn fine folk album
, and unlike Adrianne Lenker’s work with Big Thief, songs
is far from meticulous. It’s difficult to imagine Lenker sitting down and thinking about what she’s going to write. It’s equally difficult, as listener, to predict what songs
will entail. Sweeping, spindly guitars, sure. Slight, well-commanded soprano, yes. Rushy, flowy, rambly folk songwriting, absolutely. What patterns will emerge as a result of these collisions, but? I’m not convinced Lenker herself knows; songs feels spontaneous, fragmented even. Lenker, in writing, in performing, appears to tap into something deep, deep within herself, something well beyond her—and subsequently our—comprehension; the attempt, though, is worth it, the rare glimpse profound.
Ironically, or maybe not, songs
is Lenker’s least typically-structured set of songs to date—far more rambly, and increasingly repetitive. Not that Lenker’s songwriting process has ever been particularly graspable. Read, in various profiles of the singer-songwriter, collaborators ponder with much perplexion where the songs come from, how the songs come to be. Glean, from Big Thief’s Song Exploder episode, a greater emphasis on rhythmic connection and emotional complexity than, say, form. But it’s a method (or non-method) that works incredibly well: songs
is Lenker’s most complete, her most personal work; her least comprehensible, but her most comprehensive.
So many simple mantras occupy the worlds Lenker creates through her music. “Everything eats and is eaten,” she sings on ‘ingydar’, a line that is as accepting of the world and its tragedies as it is an encapsulation of an awfully, brutally, terribly “fuck it” attitude. As many abstractions exist on the album: fragments of narratives about matricide, childhood, dead horses… A common theme is the intersection between love and violence. ‘Anything’, for example, opens with the beautifully clever line: “Staring down the barrel of the hot sun / Shining with the sheen of a shotgun”. It’s a fragile song, equal parts restless, desperate, and in love. It’s a song whose meaning hinges in large part on whether it was written before or after the central breakup. It’s one of Lenker’s best. ‘Come’ narrates a mother asking her daughter to kill her, to absorb one life into the other. ‘Not a lot, just forever’ invokes Two Hand’s
wolf, as much a protector as a force of violence—as much a part of the narrator as an external source of grief. (There is also this tragic line: “And I wanna be your wife / So I hold you to my knife”.) The songs are, as one might expect, a tad frantic; so, too, is songs
, even at its most graceful. Penultimate ‘dragon eyes’ is, thankfully, a release of tension, a song in which the narrator appears to come to terms with the end of the relationship, on which “I just want a place with you”, becomes the more important “I just want a place”.
Albums written under similar circumstances—Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago
will come to many people’s minds; think love, heartbreak, a subsequent retreat into nature—often lead to satisfying, if bitter climaxes; heartfelt discoveries of self. Songs
, on the other hand, feels more attuned to the process than the conclusion, more to the searching than the discovery. Its production attests to this. Little attempt is made to embellish, or cover up what sounds outside of Lenker’s own sneak their way into the recordings. Hear, on ‘come’, a fire. (I mistook it, at first, for rain; it still might be.) Hear it crackle, burn, then dissipate, absorb into Lenker’s loud, enchanting, impassioned fingerpicking. Hear birds on ‘zombie girl’, the twinkling of wind chimes. Hear, on ‘my angel’, the buzz of electronics, the fuzz of the recorder. Hear trees moan and forests creak throughout. Songs
becomes as much about Lenker’s performance as it does about the act of performing: as much about the space Lenker creates through her music as the space in which she creates it. Songs
is, as a result, and in spite of its fragmentation, nothing if not wholistic. An abstract collage of colours, mostly greens and greys, whose pieces have been torn and scattered, have become a part of the larger landscape at the foot of which they were conceived, have formed something greater, something dark and puzzling and graceful.
Closer ‘my angel’ feels stumbled upon: emerging, abruptly, out of what sounds like random twiddling; ending, as abruptly, with the sound of a recorder being unplugged. As if, somewhere, songs
continues, and perhaps it does. Somewhere, in nature, rotting or ablaze.