Adrianne Lenker: Songs and Instrumentals

As it gets colder, darker, our lives busy with midterms or work, the moments we have to walk,
breathe in the crisp fall air, revisit the familiarly orange fall hues of this town, reflect on the
complexities of the past year, are invaluable. Adrianne Lenker, the lead singer of indie folk band Big Thief, reminds us of this exact feeling on her new album Songs and the accompanying
Instrumentals, both released on October 23rd. Last year was a busy one for Lenker, along with
her bandmates Buck Meek, Max Oleartchik, and James Krivchenia, as they released two full-
length and both brilliant albums, U.F.O.F. and Two Hands. The trend continued this year, with
the group recording a new album in the Catskill Mountains, and Lenker spending her quarantine
recording Songs in a cabin in a forest as well. Out of this retreat came a patient, earnest, and
stunning album.

In an Instagram post, Lenker wrote, “amidst globally trying times, this music is merely a tiny
drop of an offering. It is a small moment along my own reflective journey, the road of which is
ever-widening,”. Earnest is the best way to describe Lenker. Her lyricism especially stands out
as poetic and deeply honest, both in her solo work and with Big Thief. In Songs, she reflects on
her memories with ex-girlfriend Indigo Sparkle, the pain of heartbreak, the complex feelings we
have for the past and our emotions. The album cover itself is a painting by Lenker’s
grandmother. Everything Lenker creates is deeply personal, familial, and raw.

“ingydar” (likely short for “Indigo darling”, referring to her ex-girlfirned) stands out as my
personal favorite piece from Songs. The lyrics are very clear and descriptive: “Minneapolis
schemes and dried flowers / From books half read / The juice of dark cherries cover his chin”.
The lyrics are complex, fitting in perfectly with the sing-songy rhythm. It’s hard to unpack every
line from the song since every line is so personal, but from her own memory she brings together
a larger meaning: “Everything eats and is eaten / time is fed”. She reminds us of the cyclical
nature of life, but adds to the richness of it by saying “time is fed”, fed with memories and

In addition, Instrumentals is an essential part of the Lenker experience. The album has just two
pieces, each about fifteen to twenty minutes, of just instrumentals Stylistically, the fingerpicking
on the album reminds me stylistically of legendary guitarist Kaki King. The songs unfold much
like an interview with Lenker, slowly, gently, and quietly. You have to be patient to hear the full
story she wants to tell. The songs are also rich with background sounds like birds and
windchimes, with “mostly chimes” eventually evolving into a symphony of gentle chimes.

Songs is, as Lenker put it, her offering to a chaotic and complex world. It reminds us to be
mindful, to remember and appreciate the past, and to be grateful for the people around us.

About Zona Hrnjak

Zona is a Computer Science and Geography/GIS major, and when she’s not studying you can find her playing GeoGuessr and listening to her favorite music, including everything from LCD Soundsystem to Amy Winehouse to Molchat Doma.

View all posts by Zona Hrnjak →