Big Thief - Capacity
Big Thief’s 2016 record Masterpiece was very close to being a self-fulfilling prophecy, despite a surprising minority of critical attention. Though to some the record felt like a patchwork collection of some of their best songs, album highlights like ‘Paul’ and ‘Real Love’ showcased a surprising timelessness, and a knack for enviably fresh folk-rock. And so, with Adrianne Lenker’s beautiful cadence, and Buck Meek’s nimble guitar work firing on all cylinders, LP2 was tee’d up perfectly.
To preface this, it’s fair to say opening single ‘Mythological Beauty’ pretty much blows anything they’ve previously recorded out the water. Big Thief's essentially 'gone emo moment', strikes a nerve in such a way that will surely see it crack the top 10 of many a 2017 singles list (somehow, it’s also even better live, I know) . Tempered drums, give way to Lenker’s howls, recalling the most traumatic of incidents,
“You held me in the backseat with a dishrag / Soaking up blood with your eye”
Capacity struggles a lot with hurt, blood, and damage, but its perhaps no clearly, eloquently or brutally dealt with as on ‘Mythological Beauty’. Forging a loud-quiet-loud path, it truly becomes an anthem for catharsis, untethered by its context yet inextricably linked to its past.
Elsewhere, ‘Shark Smile’ proves Big Thief’s unique ability to produce tracks, that seemingly chug on, but wriggle, squirm and build tension effortlessly. With Meek’s sliding guitar the backdrop, Lenker takes us to the river where,
“Evelyn's kiss was oxygen / I leaned over to take it in”
What makes it all so immediate is Lenker’s delivery and rhythm, songs that would otherwise linger and swell without cause feel essential, as if there is no other option than release. It’s of little surprise then to find out that Capacity was supposedly written before their debut. It certainly explains this intangible quality, also felt on ‘Mary’ - a more delicate spiralling, tribute and a chance for Lenker to flex her lyrical muscles.
Indeed, there’s a lot to mine from. Lenker was born into a religious cult in Indianapolis, though once she turned four her young parents quickly become disillusioned and left. There’s a rich, and disturbing history behind all the songs on Capacity. Yet, flickers of truth come and go. While familial turbulence and loss is revealed, Big Thief’s interest is certainly in the obscuration, and its a canny move.
Like Masterpiece, their sophomore may need time to take hold and bed itself in with the listener, and the wider audience. Though they still feel like a decidedly young band, with a lot of catching up to do. Capacity may focus on recovery and remembering trauma, but it never feels self-indulgent or unnecessary. It’s a lush, complex, folksy album that deserves time. Come back in six months and it’s extremely likely it will have left a mark on you.