Release Date: Jun 9, 2017
Record label: Saddle Creek Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Big Thief arrived last year with their debut album, Masterpiece. On the surface this title seems like an egotistical statement from the young Brooklyn band, but upon listening to Masterpiece it is instantly clear that ego is far from their driving force. Over the course of that album's 12 tracks singer Adrianne Lenker revealed herself to be one of the most poetically honest and pointed lyricists currently working, touching delicately but directly on many topics relating to the human condition by relaying real-life interpersonal dramas in open and sympathetic ways.
Sometimes all a songwriter needs is the right supporting cast to help her songs reach that next level. Minnesota's Adrianne Lenker has spent the majority of her life writing songs, but it wasn't until she found a kindred spirit, guitarist Buck Meek, that she unlocked her potential. Once the duo found the missing pieces -- bassist Max Oleartchik and drummer James Krivchenia -- Big Thief was formed, fully and completely. Last year, the now-Brooklyn-based band turned heads with their debut album, Masterpiece, a collection of deeply expressive folk-rock songs they'd been honing since their onset.
It's natural to be seduced by contemporary apparatus of sound sculpting that intensifies the listening experience. Then you hear a band like Big Thief and recognize the potential power in balanced unison of guitar, drum and voice and that these essential means of expression are the most direct conductors of the passions of musical souls. In the right hands, they're all you need.
The Brooklyn quartet Big Thief did not name their debut Masterpiece because they felt it was flawless. Rather, Masterpiece painted the complex experience of being young and uncertain with a rare sense of humility: the highway becomes home, a romance between two reckless moonshiners ends for the fear of pain, a slap in the face is real love. But when a band enters the world with such a bold declaration of accomplishment, what do they title the work that surpasses their opus? Big Thief call it Capacity.
The familial landscape has changed on Capacity. Adrianne Lenker, a wry observer who's vivid storytelling focuses on the minutiae of domestic life, is still documenting these accounts from an outsider's perspective and thought. But it seems as if Lenker's been in this space long enough to better understand them. She's now interacting with these characters, understanding their plights and fears.
After making waves on critics' year-end lists and on tour in support of their debut LP, 2016's Masterpiece, Big Thief follow it up almost exactly a year later with Capacity, a thematic and sonic sequel. Lead singer and songwriter Adrianne Lenker has remarked that the albums are indeed "connected. " While she still writes entirely from personal experience here, not invoking characters, the act of releasing the band's debut -- a record with moments that hit the musical equivalent of a raw nerve -- along with playing the songs over and over live, provided a sort of healing through immersion that can be heard in the increased composure of Capacity.
Brooklyn-based indie band Big Thief's second album Capacity, released by Omaha's famous Saddle Creek label, shows that despite their name they are the masters of little details, owing in no small part to the rich lyrics of their singer Adrianne Lenker. Recorded in snowy upstate New York, Capacity is a warmly produced and soothing record which doesn't fail to show off Big Thief's three strengths: Buck Meek's gently twisting guitar work, James Krivchenia's crisp, off-kilter drums and the wavering voice of Lenker, whose sympathetic storytelling is the band's most powerful quality. On first listen, Capacity's sound can be so subtle that Lenker's stories slip past you, such as Shark Smile, a Dire Straits-tinged strum about a car accident which turns out to be more powerful in its concept than its execution, and the haunting Watering.
It seems unlikely that Adrianne Lenker was put on this earth to do anything other than write and perform music. The effortlessness and raw talent woven into her band's 2016 debut, Masterpiece , was breathtaking to watch; the then-24-year-old Lenker had spent the entirety of her life thus far working up to those songs and that moment. Capacity, the swift follow-up, also no doubt contains ideas that Lenker has had on the back burner for years, but while it shares much with Masterpiece in terms of her carefully detailed excavation of the past and her band's instrumentation, it has its own urgent stories to tell.
Ever get that sinking feeling? Not a depressive one, mind, but the distinct hunch that cultural phenomena are whirling by you, from TV sets and headphones sets alike, which you ought to grasp to catch up with the rest of the world - but can't? Well, OK. To an extent, I get why people swoon over Big Thief - especially now, since Capacity has filled my ears and usurped whatever influence Masterpiece (the Brooklyn outfit's debut) could have had on my judgment. Adrianne Lenker has that woman-as-mystic voice, that cool and frail demeanour that tucks emotion away, and which male listeners embrace because it doesn't threaten them.