There’s a lot that’s hidden on the face of a clock — whether hanging quietly above the heads of restless schoolchildren or swallowing the whole side of a church tower, its thick metal hands lurch with each measure of a moment, stoically watching over us and our days of aging. Their faces don’t have our eyes that see life pass. A clock never has the sense a week went by too fast or alternatively, exemplified a span of malaise. No features on its cool pallor are able to scrunch in disgust or inwardly ache for the sun to eventually rise or set. No impatience for a long month to end. Only you and I know how subjective the speed of a second really is. This variance of experience is both a blessing and a curse.
In this sort of in-between, Adrianne Lenker espouses truth about time in her new project songs: an album defined by her own disorganized recollections of a past not fully escaped.
In our memories, linear structures easily fall away: the exact point where your lover lays you down, (“two reverse”) directly leads to abstract reflections on a leg in life of trying for a baby (“ingydar,” “not a lot, just forever”). Lenker’s lyrics treat her past with an equal reverence. Everything leading up to her present has the same value to the current creation of her being. She imparts on each of us that love and heartbreak can technically be over, as the persons that spurred it are long gone, even if feelings never quite leave. Spectres rest in your mind, cozying up on the cushions of self-doubt and sadness. They are focused on yourself and others, of what you or they could’ve done differently. We isolate in our rituals of soft questioning, in a way where we wonder if the people in our life can truly understand us. Lenker wrestles with her remembered desires, her unanswerables, her trauma, and lets it vibrate inside us, right behind our eyes.
The greatest tragedy is that the people Lenker loves the most are the most disconnected and distant. There’s guilt in her asking and needing in “two reverse,” and regret in lovers left untouched on “zombie girl.” These people are gone, and all that’s left is her solitary voice, wistfully expelling all that’s been built up inside. Inadvertently, these gaps that inform Lenker’s loneliness are where the listener can crawl in and be the silent companion she desires.
Oftentimes, when an artist indulges in confessional writing, the listener becomes a voyeur who’s pervertedly interested in the intensely personal details that are presented to them. It’s tantalizing to peer into the trauma of an artist’s past (see Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell). Lenker’s warmth is what upends this. The listener can only feel what is being sung. You are enveloped by her voice, her guitar, cocooned in her world and all the better for it. On songs, each of the 11 fills you with true feeling. What she feels, you feel, and her perception is something that can be easily lost if we’re not too careful. It’s something we shouldn’t lose.
In this moment, Lenker has shared two reflections of a point in time: songs and its companion piece instrumentals. The latter was from recorded sessions of improvised guitar playing in the morning and the evening of each day — an exercise in being present. As I write this, with the golden trees illuminating me through the window of my apartment, those instrumentals imbue that onto my own life, just as songs leaves its unbearable pensiveness with the listener.
The trees are creating a glow within these walls that I’ve never seen before, and makes me realize that “the now” is the hardest thing to focus on. So it’s through Adrianne Lenker, reaching out to anyone that will listen, that makes it all just a little easier.
Daily Arts Writer Vivan Istomin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.