Adrianne Lenker: abysskiss (Saddle Creek) Review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, December 10th, 2023  

Adrianne Lenker


Saddle Creek

Oct 09, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

How does folk music pacify the way it does? All it is is centrally a combination of a guitar and a voice. Actor Sam Elliott’s character makes the fundamental observation in the 2018 remake of A Star is Born that, “Music is essentially 12 notes between any octave…. It’s the same story told over and over. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those 12 notes.” By that standard, Adrianne Lenker is simply performing the same role as all the other singers who’ve ever picked up a guitar to tell their story. So why is it that you’re so enthralled when she does it?

There is her mystique. It was probably uncomfortable for the singer and songwriter of Big Thief that her unusual personal history became inextricable from her reception during the band’s rise, with everyone leaning in close and reading into each lyric. That mysterious air still looms through the 10 lengths of yarn on Lenker’s first solo album following her band’s arrival, though the reveal is as personal as you would expect, coming wholly from her. Winding between the first and third person, and in the same manner by which Nina Nastasia was so capable of establishing a familiar setting with a disquieting subsoil, Lenker summons with one intangible hand pressing against your chest as you follow.

The fact that some of these songs were written and recorded immediately during the period of the album’s conception lends to their “off-the-floor” first take rawness. There’s an unfiltered vitality to each and how they are played, emanating an aesthetic of a cassette tape that only you and a few of your friends have heard. This is especially true in the fuzzy gem “out of your mind” holding charm in its ruggedness that really hits stride during a folk jam finish. Moments like these occur throughout, also closing out her ostensible go at acoustic Radiohead with “symbol,” and gently remind you of one of the real pure pleasures to be found in music, that of the agile and articulate guitar player following a basic flow.

Other songs are branded with the gravity of having been longer entwined with Lenker, yet none of them feels at all heavy. Luke Temple produced the album and he has left it bare bones, with no effects or filters on Lenker’s vocals and only his subtlest presence felt. The sound shaper of his own masterful solo album, 2016’s A Hand Through the Cellar Door, Temple is no stranger to softly striking the consonance of sung guitar folk. He wisely steps back to let Lenker do her thing and be what she is. Other than an occasional humble enhancement of pianoa gorgeous harmony of the two instruments buoys “cradle” it’s just Lenker’s penciled lines amidst the muted hues of her guitar. The end of the first song, “terminal paradise,” exhibits this deft restraint with low buzzing vibration for closure. And other songs are kissed with faint gurgles and narrow wind funnel sounds that dance near Lenker’s instrument like hummingbirds and bees stirred and attracted to its gentle plucking melodies.

Lenker’s voice has just enough of a youthful quality to connect you to the ordinariness her songs alight. It’s a bit like you’re being sung to by your precocious kid sister and realize she’s the one with the talent. The vocal imperfections and breaks only make her more endearing and her subject matter contributes to what makes these anecdotes identifiable. Kissing is certainly a theme. “Will we ever kiss?” she repeats on the title track and begins “10 miles” poetically with “To die in your arms/your words forming again/we kiss very hard and wild.” On this burrowing and beautiful final song, lines like “you’re closing up the bar/I’m warming up the car…10 miles away” are the kind that make you smile, picturing the relations of strangers. They reach to the experiences through the trees beyond what they describe.

There are a number of Adrianne Lenker’s contemporaries who wield that special magic of luring you into a world of thought and experienceJulien Baker, Katie Crutchfield, Mitski, to name a fewbut there is something that makes you want to walk further down the road with Lenker, to investigate the warm orange glow over the ridge. By the time the consistently pleasing play comes to an end, you’re thoroughly settled into the environs she has spun. Even when some songs leave you thinking there’s a better, fuller version out there, abysskiss coalesces around its imperfections. (

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 5/10


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