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Big Thief - Two Hands (Album Review)

Saturday, 12 October 2019 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Mikey Buishas

Three years after putting out a debut album they winkingly dubbed ‘Masterpiece’, Big Thief might have written theirs. ‘Two Hands’ is the Brooklyn group’s second release of the year following the esoteric ‘U.F.O.F’ and it drags a pitch-perfect batch of indie-folk songs into the desert to watch them bleach under an unforgiving sun.

Recorded almost immediately after its predecessor, ‘Two Hands’ is a document of time and place, and the interaction between the players and the songs in an unfiltered live setting. It was tracked at Sonic Ranch in Texas with returning producer Andrew Sarlo, with minimal overdubs employed in direct contrast to the layered, mannered presentation of ‘U.F.O.F’.

In hindsight, the decision to revise their process was a masterstroke. Adrianne Lenker has written a special record, but it’s one that is gifted further light and shade by expressive performances. Her live vocal takes, presented so intimately as to make it sound like she’s sitting in the room with the listener, are majestic: emotive, unvarnished, real.

Similarly, her interactions with guitarist Buck Meek have rarely been so effective. Lenker’s spidery riffs are underpinned with rhythmic heft as the band’s rhythm section—bassist Max Oleartchik and James Krivchenia—pop and skitter without losing a tight rein on things. 

The second song, Forgotten Eyes, has a muscularity to its baked-earth strut that recalls ‘Harvest’-era Neil Young even as it outpaces that classic LP’s levels of complexity. Shoulders, positioned at the top of the album’s second side, is a song for the ages: unforgivingly raw, but ceaselessly melodic. Its chorus, where Lenker’s voice momentarily breaks under the strain, will stay with you.

The record’s thematic concerns, meanwhile, create a febrile undercurrent to Lenker’s typically poetic words. Homelessness, the climate crisis, and police brutality are all on the docket and even in its spellbinding moments of quiet ‘Two Hands’ is rendered with clear-eyed intensity. As it develops, Lenker pushes one of the singles, Not, from a sedentary position to an all-consuming sort of fury. It’s like watching the world burn from the lip of safety.

‘Two Hands’ is the latest document from a band that is rapidly becoming one of the most important in American music and Lenker, both as a writer and performer, has built something truly remarkable. Out there in the world there is love, hate, fear, hope and the feeling that we’ve got it all wrong. It’s all here, too. Big Thief have captured it in a bottle. 

Big Thief Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu February 27 2020 - LONDON Eventim Apollo
Sat February 29 2020 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Sun March 01 2020 - MANCHESTER Albert Hall
Mon March 02 2020 - GLASGOW Old Fruitmarket

Click here to compare & buy Big Thief Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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