Big Thief: Capacity

Scott Wallace
9th Jun 2017

Halfway through "Pretty Things," the disarming opener on Brooklyn band Big Thief's highly anticipated second album, there is the sound of rustling and creaking, as if someone has opened a door and unceremoniously entered the room. That moment is emblematic of the immediacy - the real-time momentousness - of this collection of songs. Capacity is like stepping into the mind of steely-eyed singer and guitarist Adrianne Lenker, and just as confronting as you would expect.

Lenker has a knack for latching her stories onto tiny moments or details. On "Shark Smile," it's a row of flashy teeth, presented as a synecdoche for a furious passion, and on the menacing "Watering" it's the moisture in the eyes of an assailant. This is the same band that named their debut album Masterpiece, but turned that word from something icon-making, to something deeply personal. Lenker sings quietly in her high and delicately nuanced voice, and the band follows suit.

That's not to say that Lenker dominates the album more than the rest of Big Thief. The quartet's other members are just as important to their silken, sometimes noisy folk rock. On the title track, drummer James Krivchenia's playing whips the band into a gentle flurry - like fingers dragged through water - as the languorous waltz swirls into its final verse. And the half-lit "Objects" seems to shake off a film of dust with a sharp rhythm section contrasted against spindles of plucked guitar.

Throughout the record, melodies are utilised more in service of mood than in creating memorable singalong moments, though the cathartic chorus of the gorgeous single "Mythological Beauty," when Lenker's voice begins to break at the top of its register, is as anthemic as the band are likely to get, and the honeyed tones of "Haley" sound like Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac. It's the kind of album that rewards very close listening, but may feel overly obtuse and devoid of focus if you let it play in the background. It commands attention.

There is little that thematically ties the album together, but these songs are so observationally sharp that they are like a freewheeling indie film in musical form. Even the most wrenching moments, like "Coma," ("You can wake up now momma / from your protective coma") are coloured with a sepia-tinted warmth - an unerring vividness of feeling. Big Thief nestle themselves inside a moment, inside an emotion even, and play their inventive but un-flashy songs with passion and heart and generosity that few bands can match. 

Capacity is out now on CD, vinyl, and digital formats.