When I think of Lera Lynn‘s finest songs, they all share a pervading sense of melancholy. There’s the finale of On My Own (2020), “Things Change”, which turns a basic platitude – it’s right there in the title – into a brooding rock number that builds to a powerful crescendo. There’s “My Least Favorite Life”, her contribution to True Detective‘s second season soundtrack. In this bare-bones composition, Lynn sings haunting laments over a down-tuned guitar: “This is my least favorite life / The one where I am out of my mind / The one where you are just out of reach / The one where I stay, and you fly.” Her 2018 duets LP, Plays Well with Others, counts as one of its best moments a back-and-forth with John Paul White called “Lose Myself”, in which she and White catalogue the volleys of a push-and-pull relationship that seems to have reached its end.
Something More Than Love, Lynn’s sixth studio outing, isn’t without these characteristic bouts of gloom. Lyrically she remains invested in weighty subjects. The finale of “Cog in the Machine” poses the unsettling question, “Can freedom be surrendering?” On the stunning “What is this Body?”, a rumination on the physical and emotional changes she underwent following the birth of her child in 2020 amidst the COVID pandemic, she asks even more disquieting things, which seem as informed by uncertainty as by wonder:
What is this body?
Does it matter what it looks like?
Does it matter what it do?
I am not a thought nor bone or sinew
What is this body? Is it even you?
And though the music trends toward brighter, inviting pop sounds, Lynn sprinkles the album with moments of dark energy. The title track evokes Massive Attack‘s “Teardrop”. Before evolving into a gorgeous chorus, “Conflict of Interest” opens with a stark arrangement of Lynn’s voice accompanied by gentle synths, teasing a very different song than what ends up unfolding. All of this is to say: the Lera Lynn who has, for some time, been one of the most underrated songwriters in the broadly defined Americana scene, still sounds like herself on Something More Than Love. But there’s a new color to her music.
There are easy biographical speculations one can point to in explaining Something More Than Love’s timbre, some even provided in the LP’s promotional materials: a newborn in Lynn’s life, a fruitful collaborative process with her partner and co-producer Todd Lombardo. Undoubtedly both factor into the success of Something More Than Love, but even if one didn’t know the context that went into the making of this music, it’s also easy to see these 11 songs as a natural blossoming of a songwriter who has shown clear development with each new record – because it is. And out of the six records she’s released so far, none more than Something More Than Love have positioned her for crossover success.
Lynn’s songs still feel like singer-songwriter pieces at heart and could easily withstand spartan acoustic arrangements, but she’s also embraced a pop aesthetic that results in some of her strongest choruses to date. The soar of Lynn’s voice into the high parts of her range on opener “Illusion”, the sparse guitar arrangement that allows her voice to shine on the retro “In a Moment”, and the folk song cadence to the melody of “Black River” provide good evidence that Lynn can count herself among the other popular songwriters whose work balances mainstream accessibility with personal depth, be it Maggie Rogers or Kacey Musgraves.
For On My Own, Lynn wrote and recorded her material in the uncertain isolation of the early part of COVID’s social carnage. Though that record was hardly a stripped-down affair – if anything, it’s a testament to just how much a musician can achieve with contemporary recording software in a domestic space – Something More Than Love embodies the feeling of stepping outside into a bright new day after a long time spent indoors. These tunes have a skip in their step; in the case of “I’m Your Kamikaze”, she sounds like she’s channeling Sleater-Kinney.
Lynn’s ability to balance some of her most personal lyrical matter, such as the reflections on motherhood in “What Is This Body?” and “You Are Not on Your Own”, with this newfound pop ebullience, comes through resoundingly throughout the whole of Something More Than Love. The bright colors and Instagramesque filters in the music video to “Illusion”, the album’s first single, could, in lesser hands, be marketed as a kind of “pop pivot”, a bid at the mainstream. Certainly, Lynn presents herself in a far more pop-oriented fashion than before. But she’s also remained faithful to the music she’s released thus far while expanding her repertoire in a way that naturally speaks to larger audiences. Whatever you call that, it’s something more than success.