Winter has arrived. I go to work in the dark. I return in the dark. The plane tree’s have shed their leaves. Space has been found in my bag for a hat and gloves for when they are discarded once the overheated joys of the London Underground kick in.
Adrianne Lenker’s Abyskiss is making sense. As much as the recent Idles album sounded a very good record, it still hasn’t clicked with me for all the personal reasons I expressed here. Lenker’s album is the polar opposite, tender and vulnerable which is frankly just what I feel at the moment.
One half of the Big Thief, this is Lenker’s third solo record. It is mostly centred around her acoustic guitar and her distinct voice. There are embellishments of percussion and keyboard washes. A sole chugging electric guitar on “out of your mind” breaks the reverie a little. For an album just over half an hour long, this limited musical palette doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.
The voice and melodies are the centrepieces though. Lenker mostly sings in a higher register which can take a little getting used to. If childlike isn’t your thing, then you may want to pass on Abysskiss. Her voice can get a little pitchy at times. It is natural, real and very human – think the raw melodies of Liz Phair combined with a less whimsical Joanna Newsom.
Regular readers may recall that I don’t do twee and Abysskiss passes that test.
I’d listened to it around the house and enjoyed it. Where it really made sense though was stepping out into a 6am icy blast of cold air. I was transported to a candlelit cabin, snow falling with a pot of coffee on the stove, which is quite a feat once on the noisy bustling Northern Line.
The album was written during the Big Thief’s tour schedule promoting Capacity, one of my favourite albums of 2017. Lenker is without a base at present, the demands of the road taking her away from her most recent residence in Brooklyn. You can hear that restlessness in the music and it most certainly isn’t of the city, in the way that fellow Brooklynites Bodega’s recent album was.
The pared nature of the songs is matched by the presentation of the songs in print. Lenker uses lowercase for the song titles throughout. I can understand it. Capitalisation would be too shouty. Lowercase bearly breaks the silence, the songs announced in a hushed muted conversational tone. The album is about life and mortality something that resonates at the moment.
I’ve felt since I was a kid this desperate longing to be closer to. I don’t know what. Just to something bigger, to be in conversation with the mystery of everything.
This is emotionally raw music, from the opener “terminal paradise” (“Warm, so warm, Screaming in the field, I was born“) to the closing heartbreaking “10 miles” (“Two children of ours, they came twirling in. We laughed very hard for a while, but they’ve grown very far and tall. How we miss them, though happy they’re travelling”). Any song that opens by quoting Morrissey has to go a distance to avoid pastiche and Lenker nails it via the intimacy of the observations.
Lenker sings about waking up before the alarm at 6am. This is exactly what is happening to me at the moment. I’m lying on the sofa, typing this with headphones on and the lights off. Fearful of breaking the still, cold December calm in our home. It’s 5:55 am. I need to nip next door to turn my iPhone off before its electronic beeps accidentally wake N.
Lenker’s album is the antithesis of the last Rough Trade Album of the Month by Idles. It provides the calm reflective tone that I’m looking for at present. I’ve been going back to it regularly in the couple of months since I received it and I’m sure that will continue to be the case.
She’s playing in London in January. The gig is at Union Chapel and is already sold out. It’s a great intimate venue and will be perfect for Lenker’s music. I may well head over there.