Sometimes all a songwriter needs is the right supporting cast to help her songs reach that next level. Minnesota's Adrianne Lenker has spent the majority of her life writing songs, but it wasn't until she found a kindred spirit, guitarist Buck Meek, that she unlocked her potential. Once the duo found the missing pieces — bassist Max Oleartchik and drummer James Krivchenia — Big Thief was formed, fully and completely.
Last year, the now-Brooklyn-based band turned heads with their debut album, Masterpiece, a collection of deeply expressive folk-rock songs they'd been honing since their onset. Just one year later they return with their second album, Capacity, seemingly as if no sweat was involved.
Capacity shares a lot of the same characteristics that made its predecessor so endearing, but it also wastes little time demonstrating that this band have undergone remarkable growth in almost no time. The devastating "Mary" is the most obvious example of this: its stark yet blithe minimal arrangement allows Lenker's haunting voice to hit your ear like the softest caress. It's one of the most arresting vocal performances you'll hear all year.
Lenker's ability to weave heartbroken narratives with hopeful outcomes is a tremendous talent to have. It's never more powerful than on "Shark Smile," which tells of a woman saying goodbye to her partner after a car wreck, and "Mythological Beauty," where she recalls a traumatic experience from her own childhood. The band's insistence on treating such delicate themes as loss and distress with loose, winding rock structures really allows the songs to show off their versatility and breathe.
Capacity is both a logical successor to Masterpiece as well as a great leap forward for Big Thief. The chemistry that Lenker and her band have established on album number two is extraordinarily strong, but no matter how good they get, her songwriting seems as though it will forever be raw to the core. (Saddle Creek)