I’m not afraid to say that Big Thief’s Masterpiece was one of, if not the, best albums of 2016 for me. It’s front to back a beautiful record – from subdued opener ‘Little Arrow’ to soaring ultimate track ‘Parallels’, the band are musically unfathomable and the only suitable vessel for Adrianne Lenker’s timeless voice and poetry. That being said, I went into Capacity with high hopes – and initially not completely on the same wavelength as the record, I soon swung back around into the same adoration I found in Masterpiece.
Similar to the Brooklyn outfit’s debut, Capacity opens with an acoustic guitar line, not so much played as murmured. Unlike ‘Little Arrow’, however, ‘Pretty Things’ doesn’t carry the same up-down sanguine tune. It’s melancholic and downtrodden in its melody, exuding reflection in its sexual vignette; Lenker croons, “There is a meeting in my thighs, wherein thunder and lightning, men are baptised in their anger and fighting, their deceit and lies”. It’s a significant step from the vague beauty of ‘Little Arrow’, and vaguely unsettling as the line “I’ve got lips like sugar” is uttered in the same breath.
This step away from their established canon is what makes Capacity more difficult to immediately fit into than Masterpiece, but it’s all the more intruiging for it after making your first tentative steps into its shallow waters. Less obvious hooks are at play here, but still very much working their magic; ‘Haley’ rolls around like a Rumours deep cut, carrying a saccharine melody with it, and secondary single ‘Shark Smile’ holds casual wordless “woos” in its choruses against Buck Meek’s screaming and distant guitar to great effect – illustrating the song’s highway account to as much affect as the words themselves.
The real diamond in Capacity is found, strangely enough, in the lead single. ‘Mythological Beauty’ carries Lenker’s ruminations on her mother’s responsibility in raising her – the album’s continual refrain of “if you wanna leave/you just have to say” is powerful as hell, especially over the sliding acoustic guitar that backs it. The song is peppered with countless visceral lines that demonstrate Lenker’s amazing knack for telling stories, clearly painting images across the board that have to be heard – I can’t even talk about how potent the track’s stanzas are.
Capacity has plenty more to offer, from twisting math-rock riffs in ‘Objects’ to the quiet piano ballad ‘Mary’. Although certainly not as much of a rock record as Masterpiece, it’s even more serene and quiet in its triumph, and absolutely begs for repeat listens. Though Big Thief are simmering their wall of charming noise down, their trajectory this year is only moving up.By Jowan Mead