One of last years buzziest breakout records came courteous of a band so quaint it’s amazing they were able to capture the ear of so many listeners. Brooklyn’s Big Thief specialized in crafting folk rock that quietly lures you into their world, and on last years Capacity, they managed to expand their sound to fit their growing ambition. At the bands core was the strong songwriting and beautiful voice of band frontwoman Adrianne Lenker.
Lenker’s words conveyed a deep longing for understanding of both herself and the world around her. These are topics that she’s been actively exploring for years now, and on her newest solo release, abysskiss, she once again returns to them but now with a more weathered and thoughtful approach.
The success of last years Capacity and the elevated position Lenker and her band found themselves in is the clear inspiration for much of abysskiss as it was mainly written on the road during Big Thief’s last tour. Lenker finds time to ponder every aspect of life from nature to her own mortality. On the opening track “terminal paradise” Lenker sings of her birth and eventual death in a way that finds beauty in both,
“See my death become a trail/ the trail leads to a flower/ I will blossom in your sail.”
These types of paradoxical topics might seem to oppose to one another to work, but the key to Lenker’s genius is her willingness to boil them down to the most human and understandable meanings. On the albums title track she muses on a love lost, but one that left a deep and lasting impact.
“Love is on the boulder/ in the eyes, in the eyes / love never leaves / love is the leaves”
Elsewhere on album highlight “out of your mind” Lenker is still lovesick this time describing the intense connection she had with her lover during their relationship as well as it’s impending end.
“Laugh along with her laugh/ lying when she’s lying/ she gets angry, I feel so/ is it any wonder I get lonesome for you?”
Across abysskiss Lenker moves in and out of these ideas with such ease and grace that every word feels perfectly place to destroy you in some tiny way. This is also helped by the stripped back production, handled by Luke Temple, that brings the power of Lenker’s voice to the forefront. Never reaching above a whisper Lenker almost coos every word, and her childlike voice adds another layer to the proceedings.
It also helps that it’s just Lenker and her guitar (along with the occasional synth) for every song on the record. This leads to some gorgeous fingerpicking on songs like “cradle” and “what can you say.” Even though she’s been playing for years Lenker finds new ways to make her instruments sing.
And it’s in that push to make her work stand out each time that makes abysskiss such an impactful record. Sure it ultimately sputters out in its final song “10 miles” but it doesn’t demand a big finish anyway. Lenker will always be questioning her place in things, and lucky for us she’s willing to keep finding new ways to find an answer.