Exeter, Devon UK • Jul 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Music Album Review: Big Thief – Two Hands

Album Review: Big Thief – Two Hands

Emma Vernon reviews Big Thief's latest album
5 mins read
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Emma Vernon reviews Big Thief’s latest album

I saw Brooklyn-based quartet Big Thief this summer at Green Man festival. The event is set in the midst of the Brecon Beacons, meaning it is framed by a border of forests and mountains, hidden away down winding Welsh lanes that were particularly hard to drive down. There couldn’t have been a better backdrop to watch Big Thief, a band so rooted in the wilderness. Big Thief are an indie favourite – a band with consistent critical acclaim; with each album they have released gaining approval from both ardent fans and journalists. When I very happily watched them this summer, as ethereal live as they are on record, they were still running off the success of U.F.O.F, released in February. Adrianne Lenker, Big Thief’s fascinating lead vocalist, stated the acronym was for U.F.O, (unidentified flying object) and F (friend). The band clearly have a preoccupation with alienation and connection that they carry on investigating in U.F.O.F’ s sister album Two Hands

The album is attempting to find a safe space to exist; so many of the lyrics are concerned with the human desire for safety and consolation

The album seems to outline a journey into finding security and comfort; expressed with the quartet’s unadulterated creativity, it makes for an album that is aware, poignant, and intelligent. The band is able to evoke a stillness that is particularly relevant in a world that has this year seemed even more chaotic than usual. Big Thief have always been masters of the rise-and-fall of their music – able to perfectly execute suspense and delivery. The album begins slowly and smoothly with ‘Rock and Sing’ and closes similarly with ‘Cut My Hair’, giving the album a sense of wholeness. In the centre of the record are songs with impeccable lyricism that follow through on all the promise of Big Thief’s earlier albums Masterpiece (2016) and Capacity (2017).

The album is distinctly Big Thief in its nature, featuring Lenker’s raw vocals and ambiguous lyrics that are left open to interpretation. As most great lyrics are, it’s a presence that is at once lonely and crowded, exposed, and warm. The album is attempting to find a safe space to exist; so many of the lyrics are concerned with the concept of home and the very human desire for safety and consolation. The band has all the embedded empathy of Kevin Morby and all the nostalgia of Bon Iver. In ‘Forgotten Eyes’, Lenker desperately sings “Everybody needs a home and deserves protection”, in ‘The Toy’ she mentions a “charcoal womb’, and in the album’s titular track ‘Two Hands’ there is discussion of “places you had been I needed”. These songs are attempting to explore what is tender and where is safe. 

Expressed with the quartet’s unadulterated creativity, it makes for an album that is aware, poignant, and intelligent

Lenker has a very obvious consciousness. She creates an atmosphere in Two Hands of self-reflection and need, the album is experimenting with what is internal and what is external, attempting to balance agony and contentment. Big Thief are a band with an organic understanding of poetry that clearly carries their songs lyrically; they are able to articulate experience in a way most other musicians will only ever dream of. If I were asked to pick a favourite from the 10-piece album it would have to be ‘Wolf’. The song opens so beautifully. Its simplicity means you could easily enough be watching it live in some quiet space – somewhere every time you plug in your headphones. The song reiterates the purity in the band that I first saw out in the mountains at Green Man. The peculiarity of the track, and its interesting use of repetition means it could be mistaken for an Aldous Harding song, distant yet familiar. 

It takes no effort to listen to a Big Thief album; from the moment I heard ‘Mythological Beauty’ back in 2017 it was obvious the band were destined for big things. The band is not easy to listen to because they create formulaic folk or rock songs. They are easy to listen to because they make no effort to conceal themselves. They are a band completely exposed. I can see why Big Thief are so proud of Two Hands – a powerful, emotional album that epitomises their introspective and, yet, celestial band; its unguarded, sensitive and raw.

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