Every now and again we stumble upon an album that quietly evolves as it’s absorbed—its images, chord changes and melodies gradually weaving themselves into the fabric of our own makeup until it exists, uniquely, for us. Adrianne Lenker’s album abysskiss enacts this very journey, a quiet display of subtle beauty blossoming from its brutal, emotional core. With each new listen, Lenker’s art grows into something more magical, more focused and increasingly more important. My favourite albums of 2018 share this recurrent theme, as collections of memorable stories that leave room for the listener’s imagination. This makes the experience of listening more individual and infinitely more memorable. Like the works of Lenker’s band, Big Thief, abysskiss is full of people and places that we immediately feel part of, casting shadows of a past that instantly seem familiar to us. By the time you finish listening, the story is half yours.
Adrianne Lenker – abysskiss
‘Hold Me fast, Don’t Let Me Pass’, a short story written in 1990 by the Canadian Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro, repeatedly returns to the idea of passing human connection, or what Munro once called ‘the progress of love’: the ways in which love and friendship, passion and desire, endure, twist and permute through time. Munro’s characters frequently swing unsphered between two worlds, the one vital and passionate, the other moribund and sterile. Yet, desire becomes the magnet that draws the fragmentary aspects of each character together, the point of intersection of all the connecting lines that individuals create and destroy. Hazel, the story’s protagonist and fifty-year old widow, ponders the lives of two rival women who both have a relationship with the same man, and wonders to herself whether:
perhaps he was making those two women happy. What could she mean by that? Maybe that he was giving them something to concentrate on. A hard limit that you might someday get past in a man, a knot in his mind you might undo, a stillness in him you might jolt, or an absence you might make him regret—that sort of thing will make you pay attention, even when you think you’ve taught yourself not to. Could it be said to make you happy?
Even if overshadowed by shared, buried secrets of intimacy, there remains here ‘something to concentrate on’; despite absence, there remains something raw and warming about this kind of brutal passion, its sense of connection between two worlds striving to be whole. It is this idea of the ‘progress of love’ that threads through Adrianne Lenker’s stunning album abysskiss. Adrianne Lenker, lead vocalist of Big Thief, has already earned her credentials as a poet of hidden beauty, little insects and untethered strands of human identity. Her palette is minimal and probing, tentatively unveiling a cast of individuals whose secrets will always be held from us. The opening track begins the narrative with Lenker’s moment of arrival: “warm, so warm, screaming in the field as I was born”. The feather-light guitar pluck thrums quietly, tracing the melodic constellations of her muted powerful voice. “Hold me in your heat”, Lenker whispers—as though taking a step on Munro’s prickly path of love, poised somewhere between savagery and tenderness. The keyboard lines on my favourite song from the album, ‘cradle’, tremble in these spaces, following the streams of chilling solitary happiness, of misplaced want.
Sometimes lines can be drawn, connections made between people who appeared distanced, alliances where those connections failed, intertwined states that exist somewhere between connectedness and disconnectedness. Hazel displays insights into some of this, even when others might prefer it remain unrecognized. But one question remains: ‘The whole worrying, striving, complicated bundle of Hazel – was that something that could just be picked up and made happy?’ This is true for the characters in Lenker’s stories too. On the closing track, ‘10 miles’, Lenker documents a different kind of death, and hints at the older meaning of ‘to die’; she and her lover wake early on a farm, “We kiss very hard and wild… To die in your arms / Your words forming again”. Bound up in the running of the farm, they feed horses together, grow and learn to create together. But it turns out that ‘nothing is real’, and, like Hazel, Lenker can only imagine a moment of human happiness—the woman of the song is ‘closing up the bar’, ten miles away.
Lenker is still alone, left only with a flurry of images, intense emotions and memories which swirl together in the abyss of her mind. And it is this which haunts each listener of Adrianne Lenker. Abysskiss gives us a privileged glimpse into the mind of Lenker’s imagination, free to roam her own dreamy or menacing paths of damage and redemption. One of my favourite albums, abysskiss surrounds you with possibilities of sometimes disquieting, but always tender, human connection. Lenker catches those unguarded moments that reveal human secrets and human fears – but always in a redeeming, beautiful way. Every time I listen, I feel enveloped by a shared sense of abundance and peacefulness.
Ruby Haunt – Blue Hour
A misty patchwork of moonlit landscapes, Blue Hour by Ruby Haunt – an LA-based musical project created by childhood friends, Wyatt Ininns and Victor Pakpour – fittingly chronicled my twilight drive from Simi Valley to LA this September. The brooding, dark melodies capture the hum of the city, gilded by the glow of streetlamps. Amidst the dull rush of sirens and traffic, the shimmering synthesizers in ‘A Quiet Evening’ illuminate frame-by-frame the faces of solitary wanderers, elderly lovers and forlorn commuters as they traverse an urban unknown. Ruby Haunt’s ethereal, nocturnal instrumentals and sparse lyricism conjure the moody scenes of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, simultaneously comforting and haunting. The album’s lush images are shrouded in an exhilarating mysticism, hovering in the mind for a while before slipping away, dissipating like smoke or haze. These cinematic ballads evoke a nostalgia that can make you feel as though you’ve been listening to them your whole life, as though you are playing the lead role in their tales of romance and stargazing enchantment.
-- Georgina Quach, December 13, 2018