A Look Into: Songs By Adrianne Lenker

Image via Pitchfork

Image via Pitchfork

Gwendolyn Woods, Editor

Songs by Adrianne Lenker are filled with beautiful instrumentals along with her soothing, wavering voice. Adrianne is a 23-year-old musician, who created one album before Songs and is a part of the indie band Big Thief, which is successful on its own. Big Thief’s music is full of raw lyricism, sharp and forgiving. Lenker’s solo music is much more soft and atmospheric, she paints a picture with her words invoking a sense of contentedness. Songs are filled with total in-betweens, there is no sense of complete happiness or sadness. This is a simple album that Adrianne recorded by herself in her home, with just her acoustic guitar as the instrumentals. She has a remarkable way of writing and executing her songs which is unique compared to many other styles. There is a naked vulnerability throughout this album. It is obvious that Adrianne is processing her last heartbreak with her girlfriend and those memories with her. Songs is a heartfelt and intimate record, releasing in October of 2020 and being a staple album in the indie/acoustic scene sense. 

Songs begin with the song “two reverse, which foreshadows the entirety of the album. This song has a familial love to it, where it seems she may be asking her grandmother for passing on wisdom, “Grandmother Juniper / tell me your recipe.” This could be a message to how people turn to their family members to find comfort while in moments of hardship. This song’s main theme is finding a path back home no matter where you are, “light blue, dark blue-grey / crimson trail / straight through, stay don’t stray.” This may be interpreted as two different paths of lovers, it reflects different colors prominent during dusk and dawn, Adrianne wishes her relationship stayed simple forever. In this lyric, “to my home, two rivers / through my home, two reverse,”  the ‘two rivers’ are Adrianne and her girlfriend at the time coming together and making a home with each other, these two rivers reverse at one point and go their separate ways. “Two reverse” was an intelligent way to start the album, foreshadowing the theme for the rest of the album, aspects of “two reverse” are embedded in every song. 

Adrianne uses innocent imagery in each of her songs to get her point across, she has a way of describing scenery in such a way that it gives the listener a clear picture of the song. Her songs are both light and heavy, with her soothing voice and heartbreaking lyrics. In the song “Indygar” we are given this amazing imagery of nature and how relates it to life and death. “His eyes are blueberries, video screens, Minneapolis schemes / And the dried flowers from books half-read,” she uses this imagery to describe the unpredictability of nature and relates it to death. She relates the death of her Great Aunt’s horse named “Indygar” to a book half-finished, the flower represents the page last read. She uses this metaphor of “books half-read” to show that at any moment one will just decide to put the book down and never finish the story as planned, similar to life, it is unpredictable and can end at any time with no sense of closure. The following lyric reads, “everything eats and is eaten / time is fed,” relating to the cycle of life whether that has to with nature or the human life cycle. This lyric specifically talks about the cycle of seasons, how people naturally adapt to the change of seasons, we are insatiably embedded in this system of which we have no control over. Time is marked by the change of seasons, we eat now and we will be eaten in time to come, things are being born and they start slowly decaying right at that moment. 

It is clear Adrianne’s sadness regarding her breakup with her past girlfriend. The effort she put in to keep the relationship going. Adrianne hints at her desperation and hurt on many of the songs in the album.  “Anything” is the most popular on the album and many people’s favorite, touching on Lenkers attitude towards love. “Dogs white teeth slice through my wrist,” is used as a metaphor to show Adrianne’s depression during this time, presumably regarding her breakup. Dogs are usually a metaphor for depression and thoughts that are difficult to communicate. Although the dog in this line may be literal, it could also refer to her cutting herself due to the depressed feelings she is facing. “I don’t wanna talk about anything / I don’t wanna talk about anything,” shows a sense of tenderness in her words, this adds to the dog metaphor proving a difficulty to communicate, this lyric could be seen as a plea to her lover wishing to not, “talk about anything,” because she does not want to focus on the world around her and the hardships it brings and just focus on her lover. This idea is brought up again in the song, “heavy focus.” “Anything” touches on the moment of Adrianne’s breakup, “I was scared Indigo, I wanted to,” Adrianne’s ex-girlfriend is Indigo Spark named in this lyric which shows the difficulty of the conversation and how it was hard for Adrianne to bring up and come to terms with.

This whole album is revolved around the duality of life and love, how it can be tender at times but also manipulative. She uses a messy relationship as an example of this. In “not a lot, just forever,” Lenker paints a picture of a dramatic abusive scene between two people in a relationship. It is an unforgettable song with amazing riffs and lyrics. She fills the song with metaphors, she tells the story of her love and a metaphorical wolf that she has talked about before in Big Theifs song, “Wolf.” The Wolf is protecting Adrianne’s character from a lover who is emotionally abusive and also distant, “my dog barks wildly / to protect my infancy / from my ex-believer / and I try to calm the wolf,” Adrianne seems to know that her relationship is toxic but still, try everything she can to return to this relationship even after being discarded by her.  The prior song on the album, “zombie girl” begins with an image of Adrianne waking up from a sleep paralysis about her absent lover, the song slowly begins to be about absence itself. “Sleep paralysis, I swore I could have felt you there / And I almost could’ve kissed your hair,” she is talking about the “zombie girl” that she saw in her sleep paralysis that may also be her past lover. Zombies are known to be the living dead, people that have passed but continue to live. She may use this to reference her past relationship with her girlfriend, when she saw her in her sleep paralysis it may have caught her off guard, as her ex is someone who may be dead to her now. Proving how even though this person she once loved maybe a stranger to her now she still wants to do things such as feel her skin and “kiss her hair,” clearly showing the duality of love itself. 

Adrianne Lenker ends the album with the song, “my angel” which has a tender angelic sound to it as the rest of the album does. “My angel” is a sleepy almost lullaby-like song, one to whipe your tears too. This song touches on feeling as though there is a guardian angel following you wherever you go, after a near-death experience the angel kisses Adrianne’s “eyelids” and “wrists” which causes her to, “Wake to the bleeding of the blade of the sun / returning to my oxygen.” It’s the feeling of when you expect to be dead but somehow wake up with a sense of being protected. This could be both be metaphorical and literal. People may feel this when they encounter a literal near-death experience or when they are just mentally struggling to search for some sort of savior to help them, which may seem to appear at random times. It is a strong closing to the album, which is a melancholic farewell filled with naive sadness. 

It may be obvious that I have a strong connection to this album, I believe the themes of the duality of life and love, heartbreak, moving forward are beautifully written throughout the entirety of it. She has two instrumental songs following the album called,  “music for indigo” and “mostly chimes,” which are both magnificent and filled with warmth, simplicity, and healing. Above all, this album is filled with scattered poetry and the complexities of life itself. It is a gift to everyone’s ears and is a comforting album, Adrianne’s voice and instrumentals seem to have chosen hope above all things such as disappear and dwelling. Adrianne’s voice is like no others, same with her writing style, lyrics, and sound. She adds a unique touch to each of her albums whether it is her solo music or collaboration with Big Theif.