Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Over the last two years, the Brooklyn-based Big Thief has become one of the most universally-lauded singer-songwriter-driven bands in indie rock. Anchored by singer-guitarist Adrianne Lenker’s songwriting and lead guitarist Buck Meek’s inventive accompaniment, the band has quickly amassed a formidable following since releasing their 2016 debut Masterpiece.
Big Thief’s songs alternate between full-band rock declarations and intimate singer-songwriter offerings. But after the equally compelling 2017 followup Capacity, Lenker returns one year later to explore her quieter folk origins with her solo LP abysskiss, her first solo effort since her 2014 debut Hours Were The Birds.
Lenker has a penchant for songs that mine deep emotional depths, but even by her standards, the ten songs that comprise abysskiss are some of the most starkly vulnerable songs of her career. Full of brooding minor chords and rainy-day melodies, Lenker leans into the themes of interpersonal instability and individual insecurity on songs like the melodic, aching “from” and the gentle lullaby “what can you say.” “No one can/ Be my man/ Be my man/ Be my man,” she sings on the former, repeating the latter line as though it’s a forsaken prayer.
Produced by Luke Temple of Here We Go Magic, Lenker’s latest solo offering is a mostly solo-acoustic affair, with occasional additional synths. The result is an intimate, cloistered mood-setting LP that derives its intensity from its lack of emotional or sonic variety.
The quiet space of abysskiss allows Lenker to further polish and double-down on her distinct lyrical style. “Baby you’re still too proud to come down,” she sings during the ethereal “cradle.” “Maybe I’m still too loud to hear/ All the waves ascend and disappear.” Lenker’s latest feels like a stopgap moment, a documentation of a songwriter working through her endless future artistic directions at the very peak of her ability.