Music Reviews

Big Thief Capacity

(Saddle Creek) Rating - 8/10

The familial landscape has changed on Capacity. Adrianne Lenker, a wry observer whose vivid storytelling focuses on the minutiae of domestic life, is still documenting these accounts from an outsider’s perspective and thought. But it seems as if Lenker’s been in this space long enough to better understand them. She's now interacting with these characters, understanding their plights and fears. And in the process of doing so, she’s now written herself into the sorrowful narrative of the album with nary a judgment.

There’s a stunningly transformative quality to Big Thief’s second effort, a feat considering it’s a been a little over a year since the Brooklyn foursome last released their breakthrough debut, Masterpiece. But the subtle motifs of Masterpiece remain unchanged, and further reinforce the band’s imaginary milieu, from revealing old polaroids of their past on their album covers to writing with a strong sense of communal belonging. It’s a valuable component that colors their dutiful folk embellishments, which not only enliven these compositions, but are just as inventive in their progressions without sounding stuffy or complicated.

There’s a welcome familiarity to Capacity in how Lanker coos a reflective lullaby on acoustic-led opener Pretty Things, though a closer listen reveals the polemics of gender by using aggression as a symbol of power ("Don’t take me for a fool / there’s a woman inside of me / there’s one inside of you, too"). It’s accompanied by her revealingly portentous voice, which tends to elevate their songs when at their quietest. One of the prevalent themes of Capacity is subjugation, such as the enrapturing title track, where Lenker imagines a remotely unshackled present ("Flight is a beautiful word / flowered with consonance") as shrieking guitar flourishes distort its rootsy leanings.

Even if Lenker’s thoughtful approach to storytelling is at the core of Big Thief’s songs, they still wouldn’t have as much reach if it weren’t for the band’s detailed sonic tapestry. Considering they play around classic rock conventions, they’re still providing a newness to a format that lacks much in the way of reinvention: the multifaceted Mythological Beauty, which descriptively recalls a horrific near-death experience Lenker went through at an early age, finds a way to carefully ascend and descend in mood with a dual balance of pleasantly fluttering guitar chords. Then there’s the accomplished Haley, a more bright-eyed moment on Capacity where rhythm guitarist Buck Meek lets loose a layered backbone of gentle chord excursions that allude to the more pastoral rock tendencies of Pink Floyd-era Meddle and Led Zeppelin III.

Capacity is truly a band effort through and through, so it’d be unfair to peg it simply as a singer-songwriter record that’s backed by studious musicians. From the muted strum of Coma (a serene ode to memory loss) to the tinny, intricate contours of Black Diamonds (a playful rumination on sexual discovery), they always find new ways to surround a fitting tone that befits her character’s temporary state. Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, they always follow with an apt soundtrack to preserve that specific moment.

Even if it’s only implied, Capacity is Lenker’s personal response to many of the elements that were introduced on Masterpiece. More ambitious in execution, but just as considered, she’s just beginning to dig from past experiences instead of writing a collection of short stories. That way of thinking goes in tangent with the rest of Big Thief, who are also emboldening their compositions with a wider palette, though not without taking for granted the weightiness of a perfectly structured pop song. A band who was once disinterested in getting somewhere is now proceeding with much haste, eager to discover where it takes them. [Believe the Hype]