“There’s only so much letting go you can ask someone to do,” Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief sings on the title track from the Brooklyn band’s debut. How much letting go, you ask? Not a whole motherfuck of a lot, judging by Lenker’s songs, which seem cut from memories too deep to shake, too hard to live with and too pure to simply fold away in some dank corner and ignore. Instead, she uses them for searing rockers like “Masterpiece,” where scorched earth Crazy Horse guitars back lyrics that make the past feel like a uneasily quieted war zone, and “Real Love,” a stunningly detailed depiction of cyclical domestic abuse, or quieter moments like the shabbily beautiful, vividly sensual “Lorraine” (“you started to move me from fact into fable / There I let you take me under the table”).
The softer, acoustic songs recall Lenker’s formative folk-singer past. But she’s found the right band in Big Thief. Check the way the guitars seethe subtly in “Vegas,” evoking bleary, road-tired eyes just as the lyrics evoke the promise and dark side of unbound travel (“You knew your daddy until you were thirteen / And then he took his leave for the likes of the land / And the far off salty ocean.”), or the taut Pavement-y burn of “Interstate.” Even when the road backwards gets unbearably dark, this record feels like a hero’s journey.