Album Review: Bright Future by Adrianne Lenker

By: Siya Vallabh

Overall Rating: 8.5/10

The cover of Adrianne Lenker’s Bright Future features a slightly off-center, out-of-focus photograph of the singer-songwriter wearing a cowboy hat and I don’t think there’s a better representation of the album than that image. 

My first introduction to Lenker was her work in Big Thief, which I consider one of my favourite bands. In comparison to Big Thief, Lenker’s solo music is a lot more melodically and lyrically focused, a lot more stripped back than the full, production-heavy sound of the band. But that’s not a negative for Lenker, melodies and lyrics are where she shines and glitters (see: songs (2020), I recommend “anything” or “not a lot, just forever” as a good introduction). 


The opening track of this album, “Real House” features a piano that sounds like it was recorded in one take from a smartphone microphone. Delicate, slightly distorted keys provide a soft bed for Lenker’s clear, bright vocals. The lyrics throughout the album are a lot less metaphorical or cryptic than her earlier work, recalling memories like a montage in lyrics like “Do you remember coming to the hospital when I was fourteen?” and “I never saw you cry, not until our dog died”.

There’s a country twang to certain songs, like “Sadness as a Gift”, but the majority of the album stays in the indie-folk realm. The country-ness of the songs doesn’t necessarily come from the instruments or the lyrics, but more from the atmosphere and the vibe the album gives off, as well as Lenker’s voice. The production and engineering throughout is not complicated, but it is complex. It’s thoughtful, tender. Vocals and instruments are recorded and developed with just the right amount of depth, it never feels too sparse or too full. 

The writing is the real standout of the album, Lenker has always had a knack for composing unique and sonically interesting guitar parts that fit with her lyrics like pieces in a puzzle and could rival the likes of Elliott Smith. In one of my favourites off the album, “Free Treasure”, Lenker creates incredibly lush, vivid descriptions in such few words. In the first verse, she sings “I know this spot so deep and green, with wild raspberries and apple trees, and rocks to climb between, water like a washing machine” before describing a loving relationship in the chorus, singing “You show me understanding, patience and pleasure, time and attention, love without measure”.

A surprise when I read the tracklist was yet another version of “Vampire Empire”, previously played live many times, then recorded as a single with Big Thief. This version has hard, sharp guitar strumming that I can only assume left fingers bloodied and nails chipped, the original lyrics from the live version, violins and keys. It doesn’t have as much vocal variation as the live or Big Thief version, but I think it’s growing on me with every listen. 

In a sharp sonic deviation from “Vampire Empire”, the next track in the album is “Evol”, love spelled backwards. Despite its instrumentation being among my favourites, I think the concept is a bit gimmicky and don’t see myself reaching for it any time soon, especially compared to the others on the album. 

Some songs, like “Cell Phone Says” sound like Lenker could be singing them straight to you, the songs are intimate and deliberate, yet emotionally raw. There’s no shortage of love songs on this album, for people, for experiences and the world. In “Donut Seam”, Lenker sings about the end of a relationship and the end of the world, “This whole world is dying, don’t it seem like a good time for swimming, before all the water disappears?”.

One of my other favourites from the album is the closer, “Ruined”. Heavy-weighted piano keys sit below Lenker’s soft, shaking voice and the occasional synth lays on top of both as she sings of heartbreak and unresolved emotions. 

This album lingers. It gets better as you listen to it. I’m not sure I like it better than the 2020 release, simply entitled songs, but it ranks high amongst the albums I’ve listened to recently and that have come out this year. I’m seeing her in November and very much looking forward to it. 


Bright Future is out everywhere now. Give it a listen. 

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