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Big Thief - "Capacity" | Album Review

by Timothy Michalik (@timothybleached)

Not even a year’s passed since Big Thief’s debut Masterpiece, a cocksure title in itself, and the quartet have already found themselves swimming in an unconceivable amount of hype; boasting both tediously composed folk-lore and guttural guitar riffs, casting the band away from playing dive bars and all ages clubs to opening up for indie giants such as Wilco, Connor Oberst, and Belle and Sebastian. Following their share of monetary and critical success – a helpful jump start in the indie world – Big Thief have developed to be a progressively excellent live band, one who embraces the old, broken down spirit of rock n’ roll. Equal parts feminist as it is self expository, Capacity exposes the vulnerability of front woman Adrianne Lenker, as it dives into the pits of her childhood, all the while complimenting her growth and abilities as a musician.

Religiously charged by Lenker’s past, if Masterpiece was a statement from Big Thief as a group, Capacity seems to pinpoint the crooked past of Lenker, introducing the listener to her past of religious cults, a near death experience via a railroad spike falling on her head at five, and escaping her corrupt days of teen pop-stardom. Overall, Capacity is much more focused than Masterpiece, with a stronger sense of clarity throughout. Although the songs may seem to have a fictitious form, within the lyrics lie absolute truth and self exposure, as Lenker’s past seems more descriptive after each transition.

“Pretty Things” is an intimate introduction into the new found chapter of Big Thief, leaping for the big leagues. Lenker’s vocals have grown along with her songwriting, more descriptive, if not tedious than her last. Altough “Pretty Things” teases you with an alternate universe of backwards, acoustic-oriented Big Thief songs, the following track “Shark Smile” brings you right back to Masterpiece, with it’s electro-psych folklore that cements Big Thief in the place they’ve been yearning to be in for so long (those glorious guitar bends and tones that Masterpiece brought to the forefront are still lingering, but somehow they disappear alongside the band, as the focus of the album shifts to solely Lenker’s vantage).

One of the most nostalgic tracks of Capacity is the title track, which, much like “Shark Smile,” brings you back to those sore throat chords that made you originally fall in love with the band. As growth, maturity, and formality seem to be a common trend of the album, it’s not simply the vocals or the lyrics that have developed, but the literal song structure. These significantly bold developments seem to act as the center of focus of “Coma.” It acts as a lo-fi warm up until blossoming into a fully formed, extremely personal encounter, with her scale-like songwriting synchronizing with the band’s transitions, expanding into a full band affair, as if in the two-minute stretch of the intimate warm up the band had shed off their hibernation coats and brought about their professed capabilities to the center of attention.

On “Great White Shark”, the progressions the band display are remarkable. As a group, Big Thief capitalize on their improv proficiency, all the while mastering their extremely specific sound. With mathy chord progressions and a jangly rhythm section, “Great White Shark” is arguably the strongest track on Capacity, one so full of life and energy you may mistake Big Thief as a band that have been around for decades. As the album progresses and grows thoroughly, those mathy time signatures continue on “Objects” and “Haley,” although “Haley” is more reminiscent of a Fleetwood Mac b-side than an artsy math-rock continuation. As the album rolls to an end, it all seems to congregate organically, as if Big Thief have made an album so specific and wholesome it may seem like they took years to record it, although Lenker had stated previously that it took less than a few months to record. Capacity puts Big Thief right where they want to be, following the quartet’s transcendence into indie rock A-listers.