Adrianne Lenker - abysskiss - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Adrianne Lenker - abysskiss

by Mark Moody Rating:7 Release Date:2018-10-05
Adrianne Lenker - abysskiss
Adrianne Lenker - abysskiss

It’s probably safe to say that most people would expect a solo album from Big Thief leader Adrianne Lenker to be a somewhat dour affair.  Mix that with a black and white album cover that has Lenker seriously striding by what looks to be a bleak Scottish tenement building on a dreary afternoon and that would up the ante.  These expectations do pan out to be primarily true on abysskiss, but there is a broader palette of themes and emotions on display here that balance things out.  Coming from a band that keeps things from getting too musically complex, Lenker’s solo songs are unsurprisingly stripped down further to bare bones acoustic or electric guitar with minimal effects.  This leaves her voice and lyrics front and center and given the passage of time since her first solo efforts she displays vocal command fitting her experience.

The opening ‘terminal paradise’ (the song titles on Mothers’ latest album had the caps lock on, while Lenker’s seem to have lost the shift key) starts things off on a seriously somber note.  While the first person subject of the song envisions that the path of their death leads to a flower, the imagery of being food for the worms only to have the worm in turn eaten by a robin and therefore causing the subject to somehow take flight doesn’t turn the song to an anymore optimistic view on death.  The mournful acoustic song is exactly the type of thing you would expect Lenker to pen.  

But while there are other similarly dark sounding songs here like ‘cradle’, the rhyming couplets of title track ‘abysskiss’, and closer ’10 miles’, Lenker does otherwise show some emotive and musical range.  The cascading fingerpicking of ‘from’ and bluesy brag that no one can be her man or woman grabs the listener’s attention, while the repeated refrain of the title and café sounds force you to think of place and origin.  The fertility hinted at on ‘from’ comes more to the forefront on the following ‘womb’, but here the music also takes on a brighter tone.  Even the lyric of “we could be the riptide, or two mountains growing still” hints at a more optimistic view.  As oblique as the chorus of “when the eye grows heavy in the womb” may be, the song retains its warmth as a statement of feminine solidarity.  

Lenker is at her most playful on ‘out of your mind’ with the thrum of the electric guitar chords and the pleading strain of her vocals matching the mood.  The song that sounds most like it could have been a Big Thief outtake, has Lenker begging her ever distracted lover to “get out of your mind, and into my arms”.  Whether intended or not, the song brings a smile in the era of distractedness.  Similar in tone, the faster paced ‘symbol’ recalls the cadence and meter of the brilliant ‘Mary’ from last year’s Capacity.  Though the sound of the words tumbling and meshing together may outweigh meaning here, it’s hard to miss the humanity of a line like “that smile always makes me well.”

The nursery rhyme sing-a-long of ‘blue and red horses’ recalls the child’s song sung in rounds about five little monkeys jumping on the bed.  That song always felt like it had a bit of foreboding, and Lenker’s reference to the “angel jumping the gun” feels a bit unsettling as well.  But trying to decipher Lenker’s meaning on these songs is probably a dangerous endeavor as she doesn’t make connecting the dots so easy.  As beautiful as the penultimate track ‘what can you say’ is, with the loveliest of lines “there’s a star growing on your eyelash” pointing to the smallest detail, you get the sense that a connection between lovers is fading out.  She gently pleads “what can you say to remind me how to be loved by you?” and it’s enough to tear your heart out at how matter of factly the decay is observed.

With ten songs in just a little over 30 minutes, Lenker covers a fairly epic scope with meditations on death, birth, love, loss, and perspectives from or on women, men, boys, girls, horses, and dogs.  Even in its fleeting sunny moments that break through slate gray clouds, abysskiss ultimately maintains an immense sadness about it.  Part of that comes from how objectively Lenker writes and sings about everything here with equal measure.  Feeding the horses carries the same import as a last breath taken and that is a sad thing to contemplate, but then again that’s life. 

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