Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

Adrianne Lenker – Symbol

We close out an intermittently high-scoring day with some folk…


Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: In her other role as lead singer for the Brooklyn-based folk rock group Big Thief, Adrianne Lenker excels at stringing together fragmentary, semi-autobiographical lyrics with a bracing clarity– at the band’s best, their songs feel like hearing a story you’ve heard a thousand times with fresh ears and finally getting it. “Symbol” is more enigmatic, Lenker repeating a few mantra-like passages over a knotty finger-picked guitar and not much else. But she’s still endlessly compelling, her repetitions building not to a climax but a great release that reels out in front of you in glorious circles of sound.

Julian Axelrod: Lecker’s work with Big Thief has never fully clicked for me, and I grow more resistant to whispered acoustic guitar ballads with each passing year. But “Symbol” hits me in a way most songs of this ilk don’t. Its simplicity is spellbinding. The lyrics are beautifully impenetrable, but they take on new meaning as Lecker cycles through them over and over, like she’s reciting an incantation. Her fingerpicked guitar offers a gorgeous backdrop to her musings, quietly drifting the song down an ever-moving stream. And when she hits her falsetto on that bridge, it feels like the first beam of sunshine breaking through the rolling clouds — a time-weathered testament to moving forward, even when there’s no end in sight.

Ian Mathers: It’s too specific to be a genre, but this kind of vaguely folky track where the acoustic guitar feels dense, thick, almost lush (there might be a drone in the back there, I’m not 100% sure), the voice is singing what might as well be “Kidney Bingos” but it’s a comforting murmur most of the time, and the whole thing feels like it could just hypnotize me right to sleep, is something I can always hear more of.

Alfred Soto: It took a minute to follow the way her melodies take their cue from her finger picking and her breathy vocals, but “Symbol” rewards the attention — the way in which the former Big Thief weaves a subtle electronic buzz around those guitars, for example. 

Katherine St Asaph: As refreshing it is to hear a singer-songwriter who hasn’t yet caved and made an ’80s-inspired synthpop record, I still prefer them with some sense of mystery, or experimentation, or oomph. This is like Rachel Smith without the portent.

Ryo Miyauchi: Lenker writes a sweetly flowing rhyme like a lullaby for lone, smoky folk. The rhythm is easy to get down, and the tail-chasing guitar riff adds a more enchanting quality, yet there’s not much to keep from the words themselves. They mark the spot, but they dissolve pretty quick.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The verses are shrouded in Radiohead mystique but they peel open during the chorus to reveal a soft golden light. Hearing Adrianne Lenker say “that smile always makes me well” and “the symbol of your love is time” after such unyielding vocal rhythms only makes their arrival more tender. Her cyclical fingerpicking tells a similar story, an exacting exercise that mirrors the persistence required to sustain a relationship. Soon enough, it feels light, a routine that becomes both comforting and worthwhile, and the way her Nick Drake guitar melodies intertwine during the song’s final stretch is the most subtly intimate any instrument has sounded all year. The ambient fog that surrounds them makes it feel all the more special, like this love is their own little secret.

Rebecca A. Gowns: The lyrics are like hearing an e. e. cummings poem set to music; stream-of-consciousness and circular, yet deliberate. The music itself is meditative, sweet, lovely, walking the line between daydreaming and falling into a trance. This would easily make it onto a mixtape for a new crush — oh, who am I kidding, I’ll send it to my husband, who I’ve been with for nearly a decade. The sentiment is the same.

Reader average: [3.33] (3 votes)

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One Response to “Adrianne Lenker – Symbol”

  1. @Katherine: 100% agreed about the first part. Even Sharon Van Etten is working with John Congleton now.

    Laura Marling is the only one that hasn’t done the 80s thing (barring a couple of moments on LUMP), though I don’t think that’s anywhere near the kind of music she wants to make.