Songs (studio album) by Adrianne Lenker
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Adrianne Lenker bestography
Songs is ranked as the best album by Adrianne Lenker.
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Songs track list
The tracks on this album have an average rating of 80 out of 100 (all tracks have been rated).
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This album is rated in the top 2% of all albums on BestEverAlbums.com. This album has a Bayesian average rating of 78.4/100, a mean average of 78.1/100, and a trimmed mean (excluding outliers) of 78.8/100. The standard deviation for this album is 11.8.
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There are albums I like. There are albums I love. There are albums I consider masterpieces. There are albums that I have a personal connection to and, when thought of, make me smile. There are these things and then there are albums like songs by Adrianne Lenker. There are very, VERY few albums that mean quite as much to me as this one here. A handful perhaps. And there are absolutely no other albums, or pieces of art, even that have affected me or been as integral to my life during these last 2 brutal and heartbreaking years as this album. So, as you perhaps can imagine, it is daunting trying to write something about this album. I am too close to it and too fond of it. It’s like talking about your spouse and trying to explain what you love about them. Damned challenging.
And, yet, I shall try to convey my thoughts here in brief. I am thinking I will not do this album justice. I also think that I likely will not attempt to write some grand and professional essay on the merits of this folk album. Instead, I will try to touch on some of the things I like the most, some of the charms that this album has, and some of the lyrics and lines and moments that seem to set this album apart in my mind.
The atmosphere of this record is marvelous and drips from every song and every note. The whole concept of a folk artist going through some shit in life and going to a somewhat remote cabin and isolating oneself to record a reflection of their state-of-mind is perhaps one you’ve heard before. Bon Iver’s debut is perhaps the most famous example of this. And there are many similar instances in history. While I do have a healthy respect for For Emma, Forever Ago and Nebraska and so many of these other similar solo albums recorded in isolation, I feel like songs takes the cake as the best. At least it is, by far, the one that most readily and consistently grabs me. When I hear this woman with a guitar on these recordings, it feels like all the cliches you can name: like I’m in the room with her, or like I am uncomfortably close to someone who should be alone in their hour of working their thoughts out. The album’s start is the sound of a tape recorder starting or clicking into operation, a guitar picked up, then a second later the melancholy yet detailed and beautiful guitar riff of “Two Reverse” and with that I am already on board and there for this album. It’s rare for an album to envelop me with so much atmosphere so consistently and quickly. And the fact that this is done with an adept and beautiful guitar, a brilliant singer and some occasional nature sounds added alone, is brilliant.
The songs themselves on this album called… songs, are…stunning. They are clear emotionally yet when looked at closer line by line, there are mysteries and there are abstractions and little details that are only fully or remotely understood by Adrianne herself. And yet each song has a line or lines that cut right through and make me feel like I have made some deep connection due to how relatable they are.
“Is it a crime to say I still need you?” captures that push and pull of self-conscious analyzing after a break up when so much media and so many people seem to say that in this day and age relationships are fickle and unimportant and nothing to get hung up on, and yet you still long for and need that person.
“Everything eats and is eaten. Time is fed” is a line that always makes me think about how everything is feeding off of other things and things are evolving perpetually and always NOW. Simple line, with a million tons of force behind it.
“Standing in the yard, dressed like a kid. The house is white and the lawn is dead. The lawn is dead” is a line that evokes for me similarly vivid memories and dreams reoccurring of strange things that only seem strange in hindsight. This type of visual comes up all over this album, and it consistently blows me away how Lenker is able to incorporate these visions or scenes into songs and make them come across as they do – just random flashes of recollection.
“Come, help me die, my daughter…” is equal parts heartbreaking, brilliantly evocative as an opening line to the song “come”, and delivered with such ghostly sadness, that the cumulative effect of this is just absolutely stunning. The rest of the song builds on this opening statement, a fragile, dark and deathly track where every line holds so much emotional power it can be overwhelming.
“Oh, emptiness… Tell me ‘bout your nature. Maybe I’ve been getting you wrong. I cover you with questions. I cover you with explanations. Cover you with music.” – This is a lyric which kind of kicks my ass personally because this seems about right. Through questions and agitations and music and distractions and all these things we (or I do at least) attempt to understand the void and the nothingness at the center and at the back of all experience and life as well as, usually, try with all our hearts to not stare directly at the fact that that emptiness and that void is there always at the back of all things.
“And your dearest fantasy is to put a baby in me. I could be a good mother. And I wanna be your wife. So I hold you to my knife. And I steal your letter. Not a lot, just forever.” – here is a line that makes me cry. Or, several lines, really. And I don’t know exactly why. It just strikes me as real. I have nightmares/dreams of women I’ve been with but haven’t seen in years and these similar visions of having children and settling down haunt me. And the way she says those words just kills me and strikes a very personal nerve.
And of course, perhaps the greatest song of all time, or, rather, perhaps my favorite song of all time or at least top 10, the track “anything” is a tumble of scenes from a relationship now long gone. The lines here are each one vivid and personal and yet universal and striking and the chorus… my god that chorus… it’s the most romantic and heartbreaking of choruses – so real and so honest and so direct and yet so poetic – in most songs and in most artists’ and singers’ hands it may come out as trite or sappy, but here? Nope. It comes out as one of the best songs ever. – “I don’t wanna be the owner of your fantasy. I just wanna be a part of your family. And I don’t wanna talk about anything, I don’t wanna talk about anything. I wanna kiss, kiss your eyes again. I wanna witness your eyes looking. I don’t wanna talk about anyone, I don’t wanna talk about anyone. I wanna sleep in your car while you’re driving. Lay on your lap when I’m crying.” – jesus christ.
…. And the list goes on and on. I love this album’s lyrics and the way they are delivered. Which brings me to Adrianne’s singing. I think I’ve seen here and there that some find her voice a bit grating or trying, a bit off and a bit weird. Well, I actually can understand and hear where that thought is coming from. As I have pointed out in other comments on her earlier albums, Lenker has a beautiful voice and when she so chooses she can sing a song as clearly and traditionally as a songbird. But in recent years there is a trend with her singing toward an idiosyncratic, ghostly, almost unvarnished and wavy and wavering and floating and unstable brittle beauty. That new sound and delivery reaches its pinnacle with this album. These are songs full of remembrances and indecision and grief and loss and heartbreak and tender one-on-one moments and so many human experiences and the way Adrianne chooses to express this vocally is, to me, one of the fundamental joys of this album and her music more generally. On some songs she is just floating like a ghost. On others she is almost conversationally talking about dreams and memories, and in others it sounds like her voice may crack at any moment due to the internal strain of trying not to break down. This all works to convey the emotions on songs.
Musically, it is easy to say this is a simple sound – an acoustic folk guitar sound, with some bird noises added in post sometimes, some finger picked stuff, some warm acoustic chords, etc etc… and that is true. But I feel like there are some really special musical moments and melodies here. The production is soooo stripped down and this production style works for this album with this vibe. Still, it isn’t an accident that those opening guitar lines on track 1 “Two Reverse” sound so crisp and distinct and so much better than almost any other simple woman+guitar type song. The production is doing some good work but it knows to not be intrusive even a little. The song structures and the writing musically here are perfect, not a note or chord feels wrong. And as a result, despite this being “just boring ol’ folk guitar music” this album never feels remotely derivative or boring or unengaging in the slightest. Every tone and sound fits and contributes to the power of the album, the messages being communicated, etc.
More broadly, what does this whole album and all of its parts mean to me? Well, I, like many, many around the world, had a tough time in 2020. This album was first heard by me in December 2020 and right from the jump it felt like I was hearing something bracing and needed on a spiritual level. This is an album that, when I don’t have any urges or motivations generally in life and I am feeling a bit stymied and lost, I often will play and the sound of these songs always picks me up a bit. It captures how I feel so often. Sad, lost, almost beaten, but never quite. And the fact that I can always come back to this statement and this record no matter what else is happening, and know that my friend (although I don’t know her at all and only know her music – she feels like a peer and friend) is here always with these songs and these images and this strange reassuring artistic statement gives me great peace. And it has given me much peace and succor over these hellish and heartbreaking last 16 or so months since I first heard it.
To say I love and appreciate this artist and this album would be an understatement. It is, without a doubt, one of the most important and loved pieces of art of my life and I will always ALWAYS feel a fondness and appreciation to it and the artist responsible. Thank you, Adrianne. You have no idea how much your music has helped me these last couple years and will continue to help me over the next many years as well.
10/10… of course. This is a pantheon, upper tier, all time great album. There is no more obvious 10/10 I could ever give.
Enjoyable listen. Some songs are a little stale after repeated listened but others take time to enjoy. Impressive lyricism and guitar. A tad repetitive which is to be somewhat expected given what Lenker was working with.
I love these Joanna Newsom-like vocals juxtaposed against literally picking up a guitar, playing it, and putting the guitar down, all on record. It sounds like Lenker finding solitude in a small room to keep herself sane/safe.
I didn't think I would be that moved by a folk album in 2020
Just sooooo gentle and relaxing. Delightful.
Sparsely orchestrated songs, sung with a delicate voice, with profound content. It reached me only when I listened to them the second time, but that was very intense. Highlight: Anything
I've listened to this four times now. It is undeniably lovely. Not to mention that it tackles themes of love in ways that we never hear in music--like motherhood. and domesticity. These songs are tender, but they're honest and vivid.
My biggest issue with Songs is that it runs into the singer/songwriter problem of homogeny, particularly in the middle of the album. Individually, each track ranges from good to excellent. But some songs here could stand to be a little more distinctive.
Spine-tingling. Intimate. Gorgeous. One of the best albums I've heard this year.
Some of the best music this year is on this album. Something to be said for retreating to a cabin and making an album, it seems to be a winning recipe for heartbreaking masterpieces
Proof that a good voice and an acoustic guitar can still slay, even in 2020.
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