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Bright Future (4AD/Remote Control)

IN HIS WORK WITH Talk Talk, and especially in his solo album, Mark Hollis had a way of making starkness rich and exposure communal.

Stripping away layers of sound and emotional defences, and offering what you could think of as brutal revelation, should have closed down access, frightened away even. Instead it invited us in and strangely comforted us. Not by making it easy, though there was gentleness often enough in his voice and melodies, nor by proffering solutions or how-to-guides to “getting past” whatever it was, but by understanding.

In her work with Big Thief and solo records, and especially in this the sixth under her own name – an album that warps and distorts some of its acoustic sounds, brings more than the bare minimum and yet feels as spare as solo set in a festival tent – Adrianne Lenker is in the same league of songwriting quality, of depth, and of understanding.

Bright Future, a title only partly or occasionally ironic in this context, is about the dissolution of certainties: in a broken relationship or family; in a self-consciousness; in a shifting life. But then too about how that dissolution isn’t an end but a rearrangement, because life/mistakes/love/shit just go on. And maybe all of it ends up as memory.

“You and I both know/There is nothing more to say/Chance has shut her shining eyes/And turned her face away”, she sings at the beginning of Sadness As A Gift. Lenker doesn’t claim optimism though; this isn’t that kind of story. “Leaning on the windowsill/You could write me someday and I think you will/We could see the sadness as a gift and still/Feel too heavy to hold.”

The lost in space Ruined – a song that floats untethered like George Clooney in Gravity: knowing nothing can be done but not yet able to shake off everything; in emptiness but not in peace – takes its piano from sombre to slurred, and the distant backing voice from reachable to unfathomable, while Lenker paints levels of crushed soul. Once “We shared in the basement/As the fern bent to the window/And we drew to alignment/As the water soaked the pillow”, and even now “Can’t get enough of you”. But what does that even mean or matter when “You come around I’m ruined”?

And Evol is desolation writ small but indelibly, love turned back on itself and finding instruction and destruction within the same moment, the same word. It feels like the room where it was recorded closes in on itself, binding you to Lenker even more because there isn’t anyone else here. Certainly not anyone else who knows what this means like you do.

This doesn’t mean that everything here is some version of spectral or even wan. Vampire Empire, which appeared only a year ago as an almost rollicking Big Thief single, retains some of that original energy but less of the clatter. Fiddle and briskly brushed drums quickly take over from mumbled piano and Lenker brings the overalls and work boots for a song about the danger and the allure of obsession and passion.

“I’m empty till she fills, alive until she kills,” is the definition; “I wanted to see you naked, I wanted to hear you scream/Wanted to kiss your skin in your everything … You give me chills, I’ve had it with drills,” is the explanation. But “Words hold, words hold words from meaning,” is the harder truth.

Like the focused look in the unfocused image that is the album cover, Brighter Future is unsure but ready. And that is about as good as any of us might want.




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