Album Review: Adrianne Lenker “Bright Future”

Graphics of a simple house in a forest, with a shooting star and the album title, "Bright Future" above. In the bottom left, text reads: "Adrianne Lenker album review"
Graphics by Brigs Larson

By Avieana Rivera, Staff Writer

Artist: Adrianne Lenker 

Album: Bright Future 

Favorite Tracks: “Sadness as a Gift,” “Fool,” “No Machine,” “Already Lost”

For Fans of: Big Thief, Leith Ross, Mitski, Phoebe Bridgers



In her fifth album, Bright Future, Adrianne Lenker introduces her audience to new instruments and a twangier sound, a step away from her typical indie-folk style. 

With this album, Lenker brings her listeners with her into the past. But she does so not solely for the soul-crushing retelling of heartaches, loss and nostalgia the tracks hold. Lenker invites listeners to wallow in the past to rid themselves of the pain that lives there, and to be able to look ahead to the (bright) futures that lie ahead of them. 

This is a central theme in the second track, “Sadness As A Gift.” In this song, Lenker accepts and begins to heal from a breakup, viewing the heartbreak that comes along with it as a blessing rather than a curse. She acknowledges and appreciates the love and effort that goes into forming a relationship, but in the end decides to let go of that sadness and go on with her life. 



Opening with the song “Real House,” Lenker fills the listener with instant nostalgia for a place they can never return to, and a love that only exists in childhood. The slow piano melody and smooth, somber vocals instantly portray Lenker’s authenticity to the audience. She is here because she has something to say, and she wastes no time saying it, no matter how crushing her tale might be. 

The first song to come from this album was released as a single in December 2023, and is now the final track on Bright Future. “Ruined” does just as the title suggests; the song is perfectly devastating. It’s a harrowing tale of remorse, and words left unsaid. With it, Lenker sings “Can’t get enough of you. You come around I’m ruined.” Stuck in this paradox, she brings the listener with her to the rock and the hard place. 

Another single that came weeks before the album was released in full was “Fool.” This song has a unique sound, and stands out from the rest of the album. Where the other tracks seem to be more stripped down, the production of “Fool” makes the backing music almost. In this song, Lenker sings about feeling foolish for being in a relationship and not knowing where it’s going. She talks about her friend’s achievements and wishes her partner would give her the clarity of knowing where they are. She sings, “We could grow old. You could come in from the cold. Oh, just say what it is that you want,” urging her lover to be forthcoming with her. This is a familiar tale for a lot of Lenker’s listeners, and I think the upbeat production helps soften the blow of having to consider what you are to someone else. 



The most noteworthy thing about any of Adrianne Lenker’s songs are the perfectly stated lyrics. The beauty of Lenker’s songwriting lies in the simplicity. She can make almost anything sound interesting, and finds meaning in even the most mundane aspects of life. Her songs share common themes of heartaches, lovers quarrels, and words unsaid. In “Cell Phone Says” she sings about taking a call. 

Later, in “Donut Seam,” a play on words for the phrase “don’t it seem,” (much like Phoebe Bridgers’ “Demi Moore,”) Lenker opens with the words “This whole world is dying. Don’t it seem like a good time for swimming, before all the water disappears?” Joined by Nick Hakim, Lenker repeats that simple notion throughout the song while reflecting on a dying love. This song is a beautiful heartache, as she is trying to hold on to love, even for just a few more seconds before the end comes. In the end of the song, she sings “Now our love is dying. Don’t it seem like a good time for kissing? One more kiss, one more kiss to last the years.” 

Another song where Lenker’s lyrics shone through was “Evol.” In the song, she plays with the spelling of Love, opening with the line “Love spells Evol, backwards people. Words back, words backwards are lethal.” She uses this coincidence to acknowledge the evil possibilities that come with being in love. She repeats “Teach, cheat, part, trap. You have my heart, I want it back”. This song expresses the regret stage after a breakup, where you’re so full of pain, you wonder why you even went through all the trouble in the first place. The song itself has a gloomy, almost dangerous tone to it, making the listeners weary of love, and all its possibilities. 



On the sixth track of Bright Future, Lenker reimagines “Vampire Empire.” She wrote and released the song with her band Big Thief in September of 2023, after a video of the band performing it live gained massive popularity with fans online. In the original version, Lenker delivers powerful vocals, screaming at the receiver for their deceit, and for turning her inside out for their love, though it’s never enough in the end. She sings, “You turn me inside out and then you want the outside in. You spin me all around and then you ask me not to spin.” The original version is a true rock hit, and fans have anxiously awaited what this version of the same name will have in store for them. 

On Bright Future, the song takes on a new life. Lenker takes on a much calmer tone, and drags out her notes. She even opts for a lyric change that goes back to the viral unreleased version, singing “In her Vampire Empire I'm a fish and she’s my gills.” The new version also has completely different production. I like to think of it as “Vampire Empire (Rodeo Version).” It features a violin and a banjo where there was a bass guitar, and lots of funky percussion. The western-country sound gives the song a much lighter feel, as if it’s an old folk song that’s been passed down for generations. 



The release of Bright Future marks Lenker’s first solo album since her album songs and its companion instrumentals were released in 2020. In the fall, Lenker will be touring this album across North America and Canada, with her first three stops right here in Massachusetts. She’ll be playing the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton on November 11th, and will be in Boston at the Boch Center - Shubert Theatre on November 12th and 13th.

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