Friday, December 11, 2020

MEET... Big Thief

The combination of two guitars, a bass and drums playing in blissful harmony has surely intensified countless personal moments worldwide, instantly transforming the mundanities of life into fond and unforgettable memories. Each of us respond uniquely to a certain chord, a subtle bassline or a well-timed hi-hat. Some bands and artists evoke such tenderness and warmth, as if translating your own sentiments into sounds looped back into your eardrums, tunes and inflections that feel more resonant than your own thoughts.


Musically, Big Thief are one of the bands that soundtrack these moments with such grace. Their soft and poignant brand of folk rock is fortified by Adrianne Lenker, Buck Meek and Max Oleartchik - their strings sometimes woozy and sometimes noisy – and James Krivchenia - his drums sometimes deliberate and sometimes somnolent – and their melodies, always crisp and striking and beautiful.


However, it is Lenker’s delicate and exquisite soprano that evolves Big Thief’s sound from a thoughtful, melancholy stroll in the woods to a coast-to-coast rambling adventure with just a diary in your pocket and a lifetime of nostalgic sentiments and regrets in your head. She is the mythical siren tempting listeners into her grasp, but instead of devouring us, she politely asks us to lay down by her side, as she strokes her fragile featherlike hands through our hair while we look up to the stars, contemplative and finally content.


Big Thief all attended Boston’s heralded Berklee College of Music, each coming from contrasting backgrounds: Meek from rural Texas, Krivchenia from Chicago and Oleartchik from Israel (seemingly). Lenker herself was raised in a religious sect in Indianapolis until six, before embarking on a nomadic journey throughout the rural Midwest with her family. After graduating they all separately made their way to New York, before Lenker and Meek serendipitously stumbled upon each other on Brooklyn’s streets, recalling brief vignettes of faint memories together. The other two fortuitously bumped in to the couple in the coming months, in that very same borough.


By May 2016 they’d released their appropriately named first album, Masterpiece, a noisier amalgamation of tracks plucked from Lenker’s orchard bearing years of songwriting material, as the beauty of geographical coincidence shines through. 2017’s Capacity pushed towards a more intimate, intensely haunting album that recounts stories of her mother’s response to her accident as a five year old in Mythological Beauty, a tale of love and an Iowan car crash in Shark Smile, and distant details of a childhood imagined and remembered in Mary.


The world truly started paying attention in 2019, after the release of U.F.O.F and Two Hands five months apart. The former was recorded as ‘the celestial twin’ in woodland Washington state; the latter as ‘the earth twin’ in the Texas desert and the contrast is startling. U.F.O.F is grounded only in dreams, as Lenker’s fragile and quivering voice whispers sweet abstractions amidst soothing melodies, the tickling of strings, the faint stroke of snare drums. On Two Hands they crank the decibels and belt punishing guitar solos, crash cymbals and lament frustratedly over things unsaid and unexplainable, whilst retaining the ghoulish restraint and lucid description that pulsated through the veins of their previous albums.


Adrianne Lenker said in an interview that “when you release something out into the world…it can take its own life and shape…surrendering control…not being able to choose how people interpret it,” she ponders. Every song touches on the vivid remembrances of the lead singer’s life: the microscopic details of her childhood, the emotions gone but unforgotten, the stories cherished and forsaken. But we won’t and never will comprehend exactly what these lyrics mean to her. However, the poetic verses steer us towards our own personal recollections and thoughts from time passed, but not lost. And we are encouraged there by the caress of the guitar, the light rainlike patter on the drums, and Lenker’s delicate voice that guides us to a time recollected, a time passed, a time unforgotten. 

- Charlie Kitcat


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