A Love Letter to Adrianne Lenker – From the Junk Drawer
February 21, 2023
She is not just another weird looking white woman with a guitar.
She is a part of me.
Okay, maybe I am being dramatic.
I have only really been listening to her work for the past four or so months, but it has already permanently altered my thinking. Although I would consider myself a pretty casual listener, I would love to set up my own syllabus for her work, both in her solo career and as a member of Big Thief.
Before I get to the actual songs I think everyone should listen to (and before you get to listening), I think it is important to really emphasize the point that Adrianne Lenker is truly one of the most amazing lyricists I have ever listened to. I would put her writing up against that of Jim Morrison,
Bob Dylan, and Elliot Smith. She is one of the greats in that regard. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with this sentiment, at least play along as you listen to the tracks to follow. Who knows… Maybe this frame of thought could have a big impact on the way you hear her music.
“anything” – songs
Her most popular song in her solo career, I find it important to mention this one. A gorgeous track from an equally gorgeous album, this song shows Lenker’s sort of mourning of what used to be in her relationship. She longs for simplicity, not the complex idea of who she is that others imagine. You hear this especially when Lenker sings, “Grocery store list, now you get pissed/unchecked calls and messages/I don’t wanna be the owner of your fantasy/I just wanna be a part of your family”.
“half return” – songs
From the same album as “anything”, this track brings out feelings that were very much present in the beginning of the pandemic- some that never went away. It is about returning to your childhood home, growing with and around your parents, seeing the familiar, and watching that familiarity disappear. Really a deep song that is too often skipped over in this album.
“mostly chimes” – instrumentals
16 lovely minutes of lo-fi beats to study and relax to. I love this whole album (all two songs) because even without words, Lenker is able to get so many emotions across. This album was one of two released at the same time (songs/instrumentals), all recorded in a cabin in rural Massachusetts. You can feel what Lenker is feeling in the early days of the pandemic, disconnected from most all else as it seemed that things were crumbling around her.
“Simulation Swarm” – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You (Big Thief) Although I know every word to this song, I could not tell you a single thing that Lenker and the band is trying to get across. “Once again, empty horses/gallop through the violet door/follow red, crooked courses/shadows on the moonlit floor/o my stars, winged creatures/gathering in silken height/like the last human teachers” I am going to be completely honest, I have no clue what she is saying here. Even after doing a deep dive. No solid answers… (I am open to hearing people’s interpretations though…)
“Cattails” – U.F.O.F. (Big Thief)
This song reminds me of my childhood. Like a lot. It reminds me of spending time at my best friend’s house– playing outside with her family’s goats, walking around the pond on their property… All of the best parts of my time spent at that house.
“Shoulders” – Two Hands (Big Thief)
I think there is nothing better than a track where the vocalist is just screaming. A brash voice screaming out poetic lyrics is something so magical. Lucky for me, Lenker loves to fry her voice. The song starts out tame, but louder and more serious as time goes on. For me, it gets serious in the final verse, where Lenker lets out, “you brought me in/my best friend/so touch my skin and /tell me where you’ve been/you showed me how to hold my sin/and kiss the bad ways I have been”.
“Vampire Empire” (unreleased, Big Thief)
Am I allowed to put a song that is not yet released on this list?
Actually, I am making the rules here, so I think I will.
It feels as though every time I open Twitter or TikTok while Big Thief is touring I get a new video of Big Thief performing this unreleased track. If Big Thief stopped anywhere in the DMV this time around, I think I actually would pass out hearing this song live. Like it means everything to me. (And with good reason.) The lyrics that really get me are these here– “I see you there rejecting all your earthly power/protecting and dissecting ’til you’ve emptied every hour/we jumped into the pond and then come under the shower/we lay upon my pillow and you open like a flower/I wanted to see you naked, I wanted to hear you scream/I wanted to kiss your skin and your everything/I wanted to be your woman, I wanted to be your man/I wanted to be the one that you could understand” I have never read something that I have understood quite like this. Like actually. Adrianne Lenker (and the rest of Big Thief) needs to get out of my brain. Like right now.
If this got your attention and you want to hear these songs and more, check out the playlist that I put together here! Again this list is very very basic, but Lenker has so much work out, and I can only talk about so many songs. Who knows… Maybe you’ll find your next obsession…