‘Two Hands’ sees Big Thief at their best

The band’s fourth record is a priceless snapshot in time

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Lead vocalist of Big Thief Adrianne Lenker performing with the band at Haldern Pop Festival in 2018.

Martin Schumann (Wikimedia Commons)

It has been a busy year for Brooklyn-based indie rockers Big Thief. In May of this year, the band released their third studio album “U.F.O.F.,” an ethereal, gripping record with cover art that displays the band members sleepily loafing around in the woods. Just last October, lead-singer Adrianne Lenker released her second project “abysskiss,” a harrowing record containing a slew of rainy-day nap tunes. This weekend, the band followed up their hot streak with “Two Hands,” which proves to be their creative tip of the iceberg.

With “Two Hands,” the band does not attempt to reinvent their wheel. Instead, the band merely takes a step closer to the audience. Lenker’s vocal passages taste more intimate and immediate, drummer James Krivchenia’s fills and passages are painstakingly patient, and every guitar solo grips your shoulders like the concluding sentiments of a eulogy. “Two Hands” demands that you lean closer.

The album opens with “Rock and Sing,” a heart-wrenching lullaby orchestrated by Lenker’s lead vocals, feeling very reminiscent of some colder cuts on her solo “abysskiss.” Lenker’s inviting, sweet-yet-somber croon places listeners comfortably into a cradle crafted from the band’s soft, steady soundscape. The album’s opener sets the tone pretty early on with the lyrics “cry with me / cry with me” can be interpreted more as an order than as an inquiry. 

Lyrically, this record finds the band at its most graphic. References to blood, wounds, burns and other afflictions are littered across the record. From their last record to now, the band has exchanged celestial levitation for dirty, raw groundedness. They remind listeners of life’s many pains — what hurts, why they hurt and where they hurt. This earthy, coarse material is well-demonstrated on the title track.  

Lenker delivers an emotive, inquisitive chorus —  “And the more that we try / To figure through the answers / To repeat ourselves / To deny, deny.” On the last record, these existential, pressing questions may have been theorized and expanded upon, into which reaches of space are only known to the band members. But on this record, the interpretation is pragmatic —  what do these questions matter? Sometimes, only a life well-shared and well-survived matters —  “Somehow we exist / In the folds / and now we'll kiss.”

The centerpiece of the record lies toward its center. “Not,” the band’s lead single for the record’s rollout, is an absolute stunner. Listeners find Lenker at her most frantic —  laden with her trademark, harsh voice-crack and her intense, sometimes phlegmy vocal delivery. Lenker describes all things that are “Not,” grounding the album in the sharp jaw of reality’s bite — “It's not the room / Not beginning / Not the crowd / Not winning / Not the planet / Not spinning.” The primal hunger in Lenker’s intonation translates seamlessly into the snarling, fierce guitar solo that follows — one of the most intense moments on an already incredibly powerful record. 

For such a thematically isolating, frigid record, there lies within a distinct warmth of understanding. The band and listeners find a balmy comfort in the record’s cohesion and collaboration. Never before has Big Thief felt so in tune with one another —  weaving in and out of each other’s modes with a flawless unity. Supporting vocals from guitarist Buck Meek gingerly caress the cheek of Lenker’s croon, infrequently, but at appropriate times and with appropriate dosages. Every guitar passage, drum fill and instrumental drop-off bleeds overwhelming intentionality and master craftsmanship. 

But here’s the thing — nothing about this record signifies that its creation was grueling, painstakingly-theorized or micromanaged down to the last detail. The band has put out new material barely 5 months after their last record. Songs like “Shoulders” and “Not” have been around for a while — already fan-favorites of loyal Big Thief concert-goers. So why does it feel like the band’s pièce de résistance? At this point, the answer seems clear — Big Thief is fully within the element they have created for themselves. The band all speaks the same language, each bringing their own dialects and flavors to the table. “Two Hands” captures the band claiming collective fluency. 

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