Release Date: May 27, 2016
Record label: Saddle Creek Records
When undertaking albums that deal with heavy subject matters such as romantic bitterness and accepting death, there’s a fine line between proceeding through these emotions constructively and wallowing in pity for an entire album. Thankfully, the latter does not happen here. What Lenker and guitarist Buck Meek offer up is an album that is genuine and insightful not only in lyrically, but in the manner this real-life romantic duo match together in vocal and guitar timbre.
Adrianne Lenker is the best kind of omniscient narrator. She doesn’t step into her stories as much as she does inhabit them, perceiving herself as a quiet observer who understands that love can swing between attraction and resentment. The characters she writes about have specific names: Lorraine, Paul, Marie, Randy, and so forth. That notion of specificity allows us to better visualize these very familiar stories we’ve surely stumbled upon in the past, whether if it’s through patient consolation or when we’re the victims ourselves.
Brooklyn’s Big Thief aren’t a humble bunch, if ‘Masterpiece’’s title is anything to go by. But don’t be fooled. Led by Adrianne Lenker, they claim that love, life and everything in between - that’s the masterpiece, not their snazzy musicianship. Although they’re also adept at the latter, so if they dubbed the next record ‘Greatest Hits’, they might get away with it.
Having taken the bold step of naming their first album Masterpiece, Big Thief deliver a suitably ambitious debut of disquieting indie rock that labors in self-examination and topics like the potential brutality of love. With the detachment of a hissing cassette demo, the opener, "Little Arrow," introduces lead singer and songwriter Adrianne Lenker's brittle, emotive vocal delivery accompanied by only acoustic guitar as she sings the two-minute lament. When the title track follows with the weight of full production behind it, it takes us from Lenker's solo days to her new, fortified venture with a full band, though her vocal frailty and lyrical intimacy remain intact.
Naming your debut record Masterpiece, regardless of the intention, is a dangerous play. But that's only because of our narrow interpretation of what a masterpiece should typically be: a monolithic statement, the kind of artistic tour de force that makes the whole world shut up and listen.Why, though? It's not difficult to argue that each living thing is a masterpiece in itself, no matter how big or how small, but we reserve magnum opus status in music only for records like To Pimp a Butterfly or Blonde On Blonde. Not every child can be Martin Luther King Jr., just as not every album can be Purple Rain.
Putting aside Mumford and Sons’ attempts to taint the term “folk rock,” there’s no shortage of strong singer-songwriters putting their own spin on the genre these days, from Angel Olsen to Father John Misty to Sharon Van Etten to Kevin Morby. As familiar as it is, music like this can be deceptively tricky to do right; it requires close attention to storytelling and lyrical economy as well as the ability to not completely overpower these words in pursuit of the occasional rock-out. On their debut Masterpiece, Brooklyn’s Big Thief hits the balance with ease and aplomb.
Review Summary: You whisper to a restless ear, can you get me out of here?Some vocalists just have that special quality to their sound that instantly reels you into their music; Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker is one of those vocalists. Throughout the band’s debut album, Masterpiece, twelve quirky folk-rock tunes flow with style alongside the singer’s mesmerizing and airy delivery. With comparisons already being drawn to the likes of Sharon Van Etten and Hop Along's Frances Quinlan, she has big boots to fill, but manages to leave her own unique imprint on Big Thief's music.
Big Thief’s debut album starts with “Little Arrow”, a simple vocal and guitar song by frontwoman/songwriter Adrianne Lenker. Lenker’s soulful voice is by far the most compelling thing about “Little Arrow.” The guitar is barely there, just sketching in gently strummed chords, and the recording itself is one of those tinny-sounding, shitty demos that often get passed off as “raw” or “nakedly real” by low-fi enthusiasts. The track portends an album full of good vocals undermined by mediocre songwriting and bad production.
“We make love and love makes us,” is how Adrianne Lenker summed up the world to Noisey in March. But she tells a grimmer story on Big Thief’s “Real Love,” which begins like one of those centerless ballads from the middle of Deerhunter’s Microcastle, and goes appropriately honky-tonk for the chorus/punchline: “Real love makes you lose blood. ” It’s no wonder that her now-they’re-twangy-now-they’re-not Brooklyn outfit ended up on Saddle Creek; the real story is that Saddle Creek has bands worth talking about in 2016.
"There's only so much letting go you can ask someone to do," Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief sings on the title track from the Brooklyn band's debut. How much letting go, you ask, Not a whole motherfuck of a lot, judging by Lenker's songs, which seem cut from memories too deep to shake, too hard to live with and too pure to simply fold away in some dank corner and ignore. Instead, she uses them for searing rockers like "Masterpiece," where scorched earth Crazy Horse guitars back lyrics that make the past feel like a uneasily quieted war zone, and "Real Love," a stunningly detailed depiction of cyclical domestic abuse, or quieter moments like the shabbily beautiful, vividly sensual "Lorraine" ("you started to move me from fact into fable / There I let you take me under the table").
Big Thief—Masterpiece (Saddle Creek)Big Thief’s first album fluctuates in the most natural way between personal vulnerability and grand gesture, working spare acoustic musings into a froth of Crazy Horse-ish guitar drama. Singer Adrianne Lenker begins the disc in a child-like warble, the close, hissy sound of “Little Arrow” enveloping tremulous lisps and confidences, but there’s a wiry confidence underneath. When the title track swaggers in just after, she’s turned indomitable, trilling vibrato phrases about “piss and beer” over Buck Meek’s slashed and distorted chords.