- 22 Oct 19
Excellent effort from, arguably, the indie band of the decade.
Big Thief’s second record of 2019, Two Hands, feels like a victory lap. Just six months ago, they released a contender for album of the year, U.F.O.F. Despite the proximity of the releases, Two Hands and U.F.O.F. are fundamentally different. The latter was a foray into the realm of celestial folk, recorded in the lush seclusion of pastoral Washington state. Conversely, Two Hands is the earth twin to its alien sister.
Recorded in El Paso, just a stone’s throw away from the Mexican border, the 105-degree heat melted away the atmospheric layers of U.F.O.F. in favour of hissing guitars and pained vocal takes. The Two Hands sessions were mostly recorded live and oftentimes crack like the desert with vulnerability. The music is less calculated, but Big Thief is still thriving. What emerges from the dust-storm is a collection of 10 brilliant vignettes of trauma, lingering love, and sometimes self-hatred.
The best part of Two Hands, and indeed every Big Thief record, is the combination of Adrianne Lenker’s otherworldly vocals and poetic lyrics. One standout is ‘Forgotten Eyes’, with the chorus line, “The wound has no direction/ Everybody deserves a home and protection.” Another highlight is ‘Shoulders’, a tune that can be traced back to live performances from two years ago. Lenker’s vocals soar and sometimes choke up, but never falter. Other songs are more subtle. The opening track ‘Rock And Sing’, for example, is soothing and comforting like a lullaby.
For most bands, recording a full LP live would result in sloppiness and retakes a go-go. However, take a look at footage of Big Thief in concert, and you’ll see they’re a band capable of making it work. Bassist Max Oleritch once described the group’s live show as a practice in “radical spiritualism”. That makes sense, as there’s certainly something transcendent within the spaces and changes of Two Hands.
Indeed, releasing another phenomenal entry hot on the heels of the band’s magnum opus reflects Big Thief’s philosophy: relying on music to survive. Superb stuff.
9/10. Out now.