Adrianne Lenker
Bright Future


4.2
excellent

Review

by Sunnyvale STAFF
March 25th, 2024 | 192 replies


Release Date: 03/22/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: And they’d say, “oh man, look at her go”

It seems characteristic of Adrianne Lenker’s understated sense of “cool” that, back in 2020, she released one of the finest records of the era under the afterthought title songs. Since that time, her more famous creative vehicle, Big Thief, has moved inexorably closer and closer to the center of the indie conversation, and her solo career seems poised for a similar trajectory. I guess you could say that Lenker’s musical career all around appears to have a Bright Future.

Given the wondrous quality level of songs, the follow-up has big shoes to fill, a statement leavened by the fact the previous album took me literal years to fully understand and digest. Such an acknowledgement makes me quite wary of making sweeping generalizations about Bright Future, given I’ve been listening to it for a grand total of (checks notes) three days, but I’m helped along in this endeavor by the fact that it’s already evident this newest LP is a different sort of album.

Despite its low-key vibe, songs ultimately thrives from its consistently lush and immersive feel, offering a coherent (if often abstract) window into Lenker’s thoughts and preoccupations at the time of recording. Bright Future, on the other hand, is at once more straightforward and more scattershot. The overarching feeling of the newest release is of flaunting confidence, a desire to churn out whatever ideas the singer-songwriter has pending and throw them at the wall, expecting all to come up roses (mixing metaphors is the best). This can occasionally be to the record’s detriment, but more often than not, the album simply feels like a showcase of the depths of Lenker’s talent.

Broadly speaking, the direction of Bright Future as compared to previous Lenker solo releases is clear, a lean towards country music. Hmmm, it’s as if the huge cowboy hat on the album cover was trying to tell us something. The form this tendency takes is variable, though - stunning highlight “Sadness as a Gift” is a full-throated weeper sonically in tune with the likes of Gillian Welch or Emmylou Harris, while “Vampire Empire” is more akin to an even more deranged version of the bizarro-world hoedowns Big Thief offered up periodically on Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You (“that’s my grandma”!). Elsewhere, the country influence is largely limited to a slightly amplified twang quotient atop Lenker’s more typical chill folk tunes.

The tracklisting structure of Bright Future is certainly notable. The bookends (opener “Real House” and closer “Ruined”) are not only the longest songs on tap, but also some of the most daring and successful pieces. The former is an exceptionally sparse piano ballad, relying near-exclusively upon Lenker’s lyrics and delivery. It’s a risky venture, but one that works incredibly, showcases the remarkable emotional profundity that the singer-songwriter’s unique voice can achieve. The latter is, once again, stripped-back and reliant on piano, but instead features a surprising poppy melody which, once more, works very well. In between, there’s a lot of beauty to be found - the aforementioned “Sadness as a Gift” is absolutely stunning, “Free Treasure” is a true heart-render, and “Donut Seam” has a set of lyrics to hit the feels of the most cynical listener - but there are also a few missteps. “Vampire Empire” will be perhaps a bit “much” for some listeners, a kinda “love it or hate it” track, while it is followed up by “Evol”, which leans into the piano balladry which the opener/closer duo pull off so well, without achieving the same success. In addition, basically the entire second half of the album is a run of hushed folk songs which, while individually extremely beautiful one and all, probably would’ve been slightly more effective if distributed more evenly throughout the runtime, even if it’s doubtful that many Adrianne Lenker fans will complain over-much.

Even more than beginning the album with a very minimal near six minute track, Lenker’s burgeoning faith in her songwriting chops (well-deserved) comes through most clearly in the record’s lyricism. The artist’s overarching themes remain the same - an earthy focus on the natural world, earnest thoughts on romance and heartbreak, and narratives looking back at youth and childhood, but it’s striking how many of Bright Future’s most memorable moments are built upon very direct lines. There’s “the seasons go so fast” from “Sadness as a Gift”, the delightful crooning of “don’t know what I’d do without you” which uplifts “No Machine”, the touching “time and attention, love without measure” plucked from the transcendent “Free Treasure”, the crushing line “one more kiss to last the years” ending “Donut Seam”, and need I go on? Perhaps paradoxically, this simplicity sees the songwriter at her peak, leaning on her strengths - the gossamer strands of her distinctive voice, the delicate arrangements she weaves around it, the ways the listener will be moved and feel her words in their very bones - and understanding not every line needs to be complex. Sometimes the simple will suffice, and god damn it, she’s right. Compared to its highly-praised predecessor, Bright Future might come up just short, brought down by its occasional unevenness in quality and weaker coherence as a full listen, but this latest album contains a multitude of Lenker’s finest material yet, while suggesting her reign at the top of indie-dom might be only just beginning. This is a triumphant work from an ascendant artist, and, oh yeah, also one of the finer folk albums of recent years.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2024


5827 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

Here we go, hope I did it justice.



Album rules, if not quite as much as songs did

AsleepInTheBack
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2024


10020 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Here we go here we go here we go

bighubbabuddha
March 25th 2024


481 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

It's a wonderful album, with emotion and warmheartedness

Odal
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2024


1954 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

Album is magic, she's definitely one of the most electrifying songwriters currently.



Bums me out how good Adrienne/Big Thief are compared to the Pitchfork set they put on last year

PumpBoffBag
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2024


1512 Comments


Quality review, can’t wait to listen to this

DoofDoof
March 25th 2024


14948 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great review, so pleased this album lived up to the pressure/hype



I really rate 'Vampire Empire' and 'Evol'

AmericanFlagAsh
March 25th 2024


13200 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Vampire Empire punches me in the gut every listen and I love it

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2024


60206 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

>Despite its low-key vibe, songs ultimately thrives from its consistently lush and immersive feel, offering a coherent (if often abstract) window into Lenker’s thoughts and preoccupations at the time of recording. Bright Future, on the other hand, is at once more straightforward and more scattershot.

this is the take

disagree that Ruined is particularly daring in or out of the context of this album and that her songwriting chops are always best felt in simplistic lyrics (songs did amazing work wrapping complexity over individually memorable lines, which I don't think is always felt here) but otherwise largely agreed with this. Vampire Empire/Evol is definitely the point where this album falls off its perch

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2024


5827 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

Thanks folks!



@Johnny, yeah, Ruined is certainly less daring than the opener, but it does feel "different" from her usual output for me. I agree that songs' more complex approach was highly successful (and arguably better than the more simple lean here), but think that her approach here is also pulled off nicely.

DoofDoof
March 25th 2024


14948 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

'Vampire Empire/Evol is definitely the point where this album falls off its perch'



if true then the 4.5 is secure!

AmericanFlagAsh
March 25th 2024


13200 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Real House is still my least favorite, but I do not like Mark Kozelek like dribbling that much

DoofDoof
March 25th 2024


14948 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

again I like the opener leading into 'Sadness As a Gift' - track flow just works for me

Slex
March 25th 2024


16497 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Hell yeah

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2024


27368 Comments


The transition between the two songs is the best part of either imo

brainmelter
Contributing Reviewer
March 25th 2024


8318 Comments


hmm this seems like it’d be right up my alley. never heard this artist before, I think I’ll check Songs first
good review btw

theBoneyKing
March 25th 2024


24376 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

First two tracks are def my favorites so far

markjamie
March 25th 2024


675 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I actually really dislike the opener, but most everything else is great.

AmericanFlagAsh
March 25th 2024


13200 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Free Treasure into Vampire Empire is the one

Colton
March 25th 2024


15197 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

seek immediate medical attention if you don’t like Real House, you are dying inside

AmericanFlagAsh
March 25th 2024


13200 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

It's not the lyrics that we dislike, it's the delivery



Also I don't dislike it, just not as good as the rest



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