Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Big Thief

  • Masterpiece [Saddle Creek, 2016] *
  • Capacity [Saddle Creek, 2017] B+
  • U.F.O.F. [4AD, 2019] A-
  • Two Hands [4AD, 2019] A-
  • Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You [4AD, 2022] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Masterpiece [Saddle Creek, 2016]
Fragile, noisy images of a love perpetually out of reach ("Masterpiece," "Paul") *

Capacity [Saddle Creek, 2017]
Disrupting her delicate, speechlike soprano with unpredictable guitar comps acoustic and electric, Adrianne Lanker and her guys mean to prove that women needn't be loud to be strong and men needn't be needy. As the explicitly heterosexual opener puts it: "There's a woman inside of me / There's one inside of you, too." Admittedly if not proudly best suited to headphones or computer speakers, the band is subtle, arty, obscure--you know "Great White Shark" references an automobile accident only because Lanker said so in an interview, and "Watering" attenuates the brutality of sexual assault with imagery so sensationalistic it's abstract. But throughout she evokes the discordant ins, outs, and in-betweens of friendship, family, and you bet the romantic bond. B+

U.F.O.F. [4AD, 2019]
The deepest satisfaction of Big Thief is hearing something manifestly fragile hold together. Notions and emotions so fleeting they're gone before you can pin them down embody and then vanquish uncertainty before it can settle into the depression that may well lurk below. Each quiet, tiny-voiced tune emerges like a crocus pushing through the snow, and how much you enjoy as opposed to admire it will depend on how moving you find minor miracles. Not terribly fragile myself, I identify most readily with the subtle blatancies that sometimes surface--the quiet boom of the lead-in to "Jenni," or "Cattails" with its noticeable beat and subtle guitar hook sounding almost martial in this sonic context. But I'm definitely touched by the whole. A-

Two Hands [4AD, 2019]
Spare and a touch awkward, short on hook and groove without disrespecting melody or beat, Big Thief prove intensely listenable nonetheless if you give them a chance-and-a-half. Adrianne Lenker's slight, nearly childlike voice is never cute; she emotes with the subtle strength and considered precision of a Berklee scholarship student and avoids the strophic songpoetry now making its latest comeback. On the band's second 2019 album she tends forthright, doing a solid for loyal guitar-bass-drums bandmates with no discernible folk-rock in them. And then--unexpectedly, after six reflective songs--erupts the prematurely climactic six-minute "Not," which tops off its line-by-line catalogue of homely details and existential insufficiencies with a two-guitar freakout that just might blow you away. Listen up, black midi. (Bet they already have.) A-

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You [4AD, 2022]
However impressive Adrienne Lenker's skill set--and if you don't think it's worth your time go away--Big Thief's fragility has always brushed a little too close to fey for those it didn't enrapture. But on this this 80-minute let-it-all-hang-out, a breakup album and a breakout album in one convenient package, such piddling macho talking points don't apply. With no loss of Lenker's haunting trademark delicacy, Big Thief is louder here, and rocks more in a clattering kind of way. Their guitars are virtuosic like none other. The good tunes even her best albums don't guarantee abound. So that's the music part. As for the lyrics, they're so outta sight I'm gonna quote too many just in case my fellow crits missed 'em. "I got the oven on, I got the onions wishing/They hadn't made me cry, filling the sink with dishes/Letting them air dry/Waiting for the wind's permission." "When I say heart, I mean finish/Last one there is a potato knish." "I am the sweaty sheets/The wet bed/The things she'll do and the things she's said." "Ash to ask and dust to dusk." "I wanna be the shoelace that you tie/I wanna live forever till I die." A