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Adrianne Lenker pursues deep emotional connection on “Bright Future”

Lenker harnesses her ability to viscerally connect deep emotions and rich sounds in the creation of her newest solo album

<p>“Bright Future” shows Lenker at her most vulnerable, with a bare sound to match.</p>

“Bright Future” shows Lenker at her most vulnerable, with a bare sound to match.

The words of musician Adrianne Lenker are nostalgic and bittersweet, shining through her indie-folk music that only improves with time. For decades she has blown fans away with her wise, careful storytelling — a talent that is evident in her brand new album, “Bright Future.”

Lenker has a lengthy history in the music industry. She has been a songwriter since childhood, and her first album came out in 2006 when she was just 14. In the past few years, her music has gained significant online popularity — her 2020 albums, titled “songs” and “instrumentals,” contain hits that went viral on TikTok, such as “anything.”

Lenker’s indie-rock band, Big Thief, has also been hugely successful in their own right, producing songs such as “Simulation Swarm” and “Shark Smile.” Their talent has even touched Charlottesville directly, as Big Thief performed at The Jefferson Theater just last spring. 

“Bright Future” shows Lenker at her most vulnerable, with a bare sound to match. It was recorded without using digital processes, an integral piece of Lenker’s puzzle, creating an emotional and stripped-down sound. Listeners are able to hear the sounds of breathing before singing and creaks on the floor and in the instrumentals, a feature that creates a palpable sense of intimacy. 

The sound Lenker creates has some similarities to traditional Appalachian-style music. Usage of the fiddle and stringed instruments in songs such as “Sadness As A Gift,” “Free Treasure,” and “Vampire Empire,” makes this influence clear. 

The Appalachian folk tradition often includes songs with lyrics about huge and ubiquitous feelings that we all experience in some way, like love, loss and challenges — especially as they relate to rural living. Appalachian ballads honor the experiences of real life and the lessons we learn along the way. 

“Bright Future” begins with the reflective opening track “Real House.” She sings, “Mama, what happened? / I never thought we'd go this long / Now, thirty-one and I don't feel strong / And your love is all I want.” Lenker lyrically explores the difficulties of growing up as she nostalgically yearns for the bittersweet memories of years long past.

Next comes “Sadness As A Gift,” a track which features a lively fiddle line that drives through the song, waning in and out with the accompaniment of a guitar. These lyrics relate to the idea of trying to look on the brighter side of things and being grateful for love that has been lost. 

“Leaning on the windowsill / You could write me someday, and I think you will,” Lenker sings. “We could see the sadness as a gift and still / Feel too heavy to hold.” 

In her lyrics, Lenker does not glaze over the inevitable struggles in life — instead, she depicts the bridge from love to loss in “Sadness As A Gift” in a way that makes listeners want to experience each moment of love to the fullest. She hints at savoring the happiness we find in moments of togetherness and peace.  

Next on the tracklist is her song “Fool,” which intersperses lyrics about deep, devotional love alongside everyday matters and scenes reminiscent of community. Lenker sings, “Tommy had twins / Kenna and Louis tied the knot / Zoë and B / Built their house on the spot / We could watch a show (show, show) / We could watch a garden grow (grow, grow).” 

Through vignettes like these, Lenker reveals life for what it is. It will never be easy, but there are glimpses of beauty and ecstasy in its moments. She highlights the goings-on in the lives of these everyday people — all working towards love and family — illustrating the tender, intimate moments woven into our world.

For Lenker fans, a significant addition to “Bright Future” is a version of the track “Vampire Empire,” which bears much resemblance to the version she initially introduced live in concert with Big Thief back in November 2022. 

In Big Thief’s studio recording of “Vampire Empire,” some of the fan-favorite lyrics are altered or omitted, a decision that many listeners notably took issue with. While the band defended their decision to change the song in an Instagram comment, Lenker’s version might satisfy some fans who were disappointed. 

In the “Bright Future” version of the song, she brings back the omitted line “I'm thе fish and she's my gills.” In the subsequent line, she layers vocals of her and her band members all belting the line “Falling, yeah.” Compared to the Big Thief track, this version of “Vampire Empire” sounds more communal, raw and unfiltered. In “Vampire Empire,” Lenker’s voice even clips the mic causing it to distort, an effect that conveys passion and energy as the song hits a dramatic peak.

Through this rawness and fervent vulnerability, Lenker draws on immense, existential themes and deals with the ups and downs of life as she lives it. Lenker’s technique as an artist who conveys authenticity and reality is an incredible triumph. On her most recent record, Lenker brings us right into the room where she recorded “Bright Future” and indulges us in what music should be — a holistic experience, like life itself. 


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