If you’ve listened to any of the tracks from Big Thief’s new album entitled Capacity, then you will recognize the trademark poetic imagery set against a canvas of haunting melody. It will surely come as no surprise that this indie band from Brooklyn is playing to sold out crowds in the United States and Europe throughout their 2018 tour.
It may also go without saying that Big Thief is enjoying positive reviews. Will Hermes described Adrianne Lenker as “a romantic folk-rock poet of the first order” in his review for Rolling Stone. Her words are at once captivating, unnerving, and soothing. The lyrics’ subtle twists combined with Lenker’s delicate vocals are driven by dissonant chords that connect each image. The juxtaposition of the elements in the title track do, in fact, remain bound to one another much like the consonance that introduces the first stanza.
It’s a tricky combination of pieces that flow together but are difficult to pin down. “Capacity” is, according to Lenker, based on a dream she had the night before writing this piece. There’s a stream of consciousness effect that leads the listener from one moment to the next in a series of vignettes. It’s the capacity of imagination that binds them.
Perhaps that’s why it is difficult to find an exact label for Big Thief’s style of music. Asked in an interview for Newsweek if she identified the band’s music as folk-rock, Lenker responded, “I don’t identify with genre.” Their music, like genre, is challenging to pin down. You get in the neighborhood of identifying what it might be, but finding the exact street, let alone the house number, is a matter of interpretation. As Lenker states in the same interview, “Any time you bring something out of an intangible space . . . into the realm of words . . . You lose something when you try to communicate belief to someone.” Riding through Big Thief’s landscape is an intriguing journey.
Big Thief, an indie rock band from Brooklyn, has managed to avoid the sophomore slump. Their debut album, Masterpiece, made critics swoon in 2015. Masterpiece was a beautiful record that tapped into the feelings surrounding being both young and uncertain. In June of 2017, Big Thief released their second album. Called Capacity, this album is filled with folksy stories that effortlessly tumble out of singer-songwriter Adrianne Lenker’s soul.
The cover of Capacity wordlessly explains one of the album’s key messages. The album cover shows Lenker’s uncle gently holding Lenker as a baby. However, the uncle looks mysteriously like Lenker herself. The resulting message is that we have dueling forces in our souls. We are our own mothers and daughters, and we are also our own fathers and sons. The popular thinker Erik Erikson would be pleased with this idea.
On one track, Lenker recounts a childhood accident both bloody and unsettling. However, instead of telegraphing feelings of anger and resentment to the listener over this experience, Lenker expresses her empathy with her once young mother. Lenker may have only been 5-years-old during the accident, but her mother was only 27. With the passage of time, a 27-year-old mother seems like a child herself. Lenker empathizes with her mother’s bewildering and terrifying sense of responsibility. It’s moments like these that make Capacity stand out.
Interestingly, Lenker was born into a religious cult. However, her parents picked her up and left the congregation when she was still little. The following years brought plenty of fascinating experiences that sneak their way into narratives on this album. However, Lenker’s songs never sound exploitative. Instead, they come across as genuine passageways into the experiences of others. This remarkable talent for both insight and empathy elevates this indie album above a crowded field of artists. It also makes us look forward to what Lenker will bring in later decades.