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Adrianne Lenker & Waxahatchee’s New Albums Are The Most Self-Assured Music They've Made

Bright Future and Tigers Blood are drastically different — but complementary.

It didn’t feel like a coincidence that Adrianne Lenker and Waxahatchee, two of modern indie’s most formidable songwriters, released albums on the same day. On March 22, Lenker dropped her third studio album Bright Future, while Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield released Tigers Blood — and together, these two records have already elicited effusive critical praise. They are drastically different projects — one folkier and experimental, while the other leans Americana. But after listening to both for weeks, I find them to feel oddly complementary, like a showcase of two poets at the top of their game.

In different ways, both artists’ new albums are a return to simplicity. Lenker’s Bright Future was an exercise in spontaneity and collaboration. She recorded it in a forest studio with three friends on piano, guitar, and violin, feeling their way through the songs as co-producer and engineer Philip Weinrobe captured their play on an analog 8-track tape recorder. The recordings buzz and crackle, sound raw and human, and feel simultaneously enlightened and back-to-basics. They were not fussed over; in an album statement, Lenker says she only listened back to everything they made after everyone had left. And it doesn’t feel accidental that just like the music, her nimble songwriting, which could be considered the densest part of her artistry, is equally as unspooled, as she distills ideas about love and relationships into uncomplicated axioms. “Love spells evol, backwards, people,” she sings on “Evol.”

Waxahatchee also went through a paring down for Tigers Blood. The acclaim around her 2020 record Saint Cloud, which swapped indie rock for wind-blown banjo and pedal steel guitar, centered on how she was able to harness the breeziness of the genre as her lyrics blazed with details about her rocky transition into sobriety. Her latest continues that sound but is not so thematically turbulent (in the interim years, she’s remained sober and in a long-term relationship with partner Kevin Morby): She’s now singing about more quotidian things, such as codependency, the constant rekindling that goes into enduring relationships, the ends of a friendship. They feel like the songs of settling into your 30s — or, as Crutchfield tells the Guardian, “the season of my life.”

For both artists, these circumstances were unexplored territory. Lenker admits in the record’s bio that she had “no idea what the outcome” of those friendly sessions would be, and went into them not even intending to make an album. Crutchfield also describes Tigers Blood as experimental (after she’d gotten used to mining angst for her art, there was suddenly a shortage of that in her life).

But perhaps it’s a testament to both artists’ assuredness in themselves, their visions, and collaborators that they were not only able to create music, but albums that feel like the purest distillations of their craft. Lenker’s songs, which have always felt like heirlooms, sound all the more precious in their imperfect glory on Bright Future. Meanwhile, Crutchfield’s songwriting, now out of the shadows of turmoil, feel all the more resonant. And listening to their albums, one after the other, feels like devouring a two-entrée meal — leaving your heart full, nourished, and completely sated.