Big Thief – Capacity review

Secret Meeting score: 80

by Philip Moss

Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker is an enigma with quite a back story. She was brought up in a religious cult, nearly died from a railroad spike landing on her head, incessantly travelled from town to town through the American Midwest and had a crack at being a child pop star, all by the age of 13.

But yet Capacity is a record that poses more questions than it answers. One thing is safe to say – her unconventional upbringing has clearly had an impact and, as we know with any form of art, conventional doesn’t equate to extraordinary. Therefore, she’s got plenty of autobiographical ammo, which contributes heavily towards what makes this sophomore record so memorable.

Released through the Nebraska based Saddle Creek label (founded by Mike Mogis, ex-Bright Eyes, and Conor Oberst’s brother, Justin), it’s the kind of fuzzy, folk record that you just can’t help but fall in love with.

Opener, Pretty Things, hinges on a beautifully melancholic, finger-picked acoustic line that has real intimacy, as Lenker’s delicate vocal leaves us feeling like we’re eavesdropping on two lovers in an intimate moment. But, don’t confuse that delicate, dainty voice for her being a push over. Underneath the gentle, hushed tone is a hard defiance that – be it from man or woman – will not accept violent, toxic, confrontational or aggressive energies of any kind – ‘Don’t take me for a fool. There’s a woman inside of me; there’s one inside of you too.’

The record’s centrepiece and first single, Mythological Beauty, tackles the railroad spike incident, but from the angle of the distraught mother (who was ‘inside baking bread’), agonising over the near fatal accident that had just rocked her world. Mary, documents the ‘numbness’ felt after a lover, ‘now out of sight’, is pined for with the kind of desperate hope that you’d expect to read in a little girl’s diary entry – craving for the mystery character to return on horseback and ‘kiss me like you used to’.

Lenker is a heart on the page songwriter. So it’s no surprise that, like its creator, Capacity is an enigma too.

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