Big Thief Take Their Celestial Sound in an Earthier Direction on ‘Two Hands’
This past spring, the indie-rock quartet released their third album U.F.O.F., an ethereal tour-de-force that simultaneously felt like the band’s most precise articulation of itself to that point as well as a subtle rejection of the precise grunge-folk that had turned them into one of the most revered indie bands of the second half of this decade. “I don’t think we’ve hit a point yet where we’ve had to make our rebellion record,” she said of the album, “but in a way, all the music I make is dealing with that.”
Almost immediately, the quartet returned with Two Hands, their second album in five months and their fourth in three years. This time around, the band land on more stable, and familiar, footing: Unlike U.F.O.F., a moody album largely devoid of swooping hooks, songs like “Forgotten Eyes” and “Not,” the record’s charging six-minute centerpiece, are melodic masterpieces that foreground a pop influence that doesn’t always readily surface.
As a songwriter, lead singer Adrianne Lenker has become interested in the power of repetition and restatement, in finding ways to draw out narrative and pathos in the reiteration of a simple phrase, word, or melody: the loping melody of “Rock and Sing,” the repeated howls that conclude the appropriately-titled “Wolf,” the building tension in the negative statements that comprise the refrain of “Not.”
The band regards Two Hands as the earthy companion record to its celestial predecessor, and although the comparison doesn’t always hold (see deeply-grounded U.F.O.F. standouts like “Cattails” and “Orange’), it also holds some truth. Unlike the strange scene-setting of their last record, which contained lyrics like“starve, magic mirror/I thought the crumbs of your life wouldn’t dry,”Two Hands is firmly rooted in the corporeal, full of twisted arms and touching skin and naked bodies. Lenker has returned to her most tried-and-true subject matter: the damage, harm and physical violence that can so easily walk hand in hand alongside love and companionship. “Confuse my home for a refuge,” she sings in a suggestive trembling, “I don’t want to be scared of anybody coming/I don’t want to lock my door anymore.”
With its sturdy songcraft and mostly straightforward arrangements, Two Hands is not a revelation so much as a reinforcement and welcome reminder of Big Thief’s greatest strengths.