Album Review: Adrianne Lenker - abysskiss
In the two preceding years, Big Thief have released a couple of adored albums, and toured behind them pretty much non-stop well up into the middle of 2018. It’s surprising then that both Buck Meek and now Adrianne Lenker have both put out solo albums in 2018; Meek in fact took some time out of Big Thief in order to complete his self-titled record, but for Lenker the last few years have been a non-stop whirlwind in which she snatched moments to write and record abysskiss.
This relentless activity actually seems to have been advantageous to Lenker in creating abysskiss, as the perpetual motion of her moods is woven into the very fabric of these delicate but powerful songs. Although the lyrics are often abstract, they document the personal travails of these times, and she described the completion of the album by saying “another skin is being shed." All of this speaks to Lenker’s preternatural gift (practically a necessity) for songwriting, and the way that she devotes body and mind to her music.
The exhaustion and frustration that surely must have built up within her at certain points over these busy years is certainly present and lurking in the corners of abysskiss (and the minimal, mostly acoustic arrangements would support these feelings), but the more overt sentiments that spring from the record are of the pure joy of being alive, and her vital connection to nature and humanity. The winding central motif of opening track ‘terminal paradise’ sums this up perfectly, as she takes us from her birth to her death, she snatches beauty from a morbid idea: “see my death become a trail/ and the trail leads to a flower/ I will blossom in your sail/ every dreamed and waking hour.” There’s an elemental force underlying abysskiss, which keeps it absolutely emotionally magnetic and precise, even when the lyrics are obtuse or unintelligible. This is best exemplified on the internal tornado of ‘symbol’ – perhaps the most breathtaking track in the set – as she sings in labyrinthine lines about infinity, time’s passing and the symbols of love that are visible in life.
Relationships often float up in inchoate forms amidst the musings of abysskiss, but the message received back is that of a strong independent woman. In ‘from’, Lenker sings of her mania and people’s “wanting to protect me from…” allowing that last word to hang with all the possibilities of what could follow, before she categorically states no one can be her man or woman. Later on ‘blue and red horses’ she confidently affirms “I’m a lot of boy/ with a lot of nerve/ do you want to toy with me?” and although she comes across as feminine and peaceful throughout her music, you certainly feel like backing down from this challenge. The most sturdy track in the collection is ‘out of your mind’, a relatively rambunctious folk-rock track that seems to touch on her industriousness as she repeats “my heart is a wagon,” and she could also be singing about herself when she professes “she is not a dragon/ but I’m afraid of her fire.”
That’s not to say that abysskiss does not possess sweetness – in fact even at its fiercest, her love is still layered on top. ‘womb’ and ‘cradle’ are both songs written for a beloved partner, but, as the titles both suggest, are often motherly in their divine affection – perhaps suggesting a familial future that she has in mind with the person in question. Often Lenker is asserting her own strength and reliability in these relationships, and even when these romantic bonds reach cataclysmic points, as on ‘abyss kiss’ or ‘what can you say’, her own determination and desire overcomes her sadness.
She leaves us on closing track ‘10 miles’, envisioning a life on a farm with horses and two children, ultimately dying happily in her partner’s arms. It’s again a deft combination of divinity and death that could have only been created by someone truly in touch with her inner feelings and the way they connect with the natural world. She’s channelled this tenuous bond into 10 skeletal songs, kissed them with all the warmth in her heart, and released them into the world to blossom and light up the lives of all those who'll listen.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 11th October 2018.