Big Thief – Demos Vol. 1 – Topanga Canyon, CA – Feb 2018 review

by Philip Moss

It was certainly a surprise to be gifted two incredible Big Thief albums last year – the spacey folk of U.F.O.F, and more guttural Two Hands – but it seems the most prolific of bands are even more prolific than we gave them credit for. Last year’s LPs were born from sessions that spawned 34 songs – 22 of which adorned the two albums. Now, five more tracks are upon us.

As was the case with U.F.O.F, a couple of the songs here featured on Adrianne Lenker’s solo record, abysskiss. Blue and Red Horses finds Lenker closer to the mic than on the previous incarnation, as Max Oleartchik’s spluttering bass wraps around her and provides spurts of jittering melody. But its the tinkling of chimes that adds that little bit of gold dust to another special addition to the band’s canon. The demo ‘feel’ certainly brings that special something too – hiss bookends the songs, bum notes have been left untouched and, bar the odd double tracked vocal, there’s little in the way of overdubs. Even the sleeve is just a black Sharpie pressed on a rather candid looking photograph – proving, as we’ve always known, that Big Thief is about the songs.

Buck Meek opens Mermaid and Over with riffs straight from the Petty songbook, but, undoubtedly, these feel like Lenker compositions. Less developed than recent ‘finished’ material, there’s a rambling, jamming element – you can almost see the four piece feeling their way around the songs – the eye contact vital as Lenker nods when to move the arrangements along. But these songs are of no less quality than what was released last year – the palette is just different. Only the slower Live Young feels like it could slip seamlessly into the Two Hands track listing – its falsetto chorus showing off Lenker’s voice, which has blossomed and lost its soft rounded edges since solo debut, Hours Were The Birds.

That Big Thief are donating all the money raised by this Bandcamp EP to their road crew shows that their their giving nature is in personality as well as song. This is a rare look through the cabin windows, as we catch a glimpse of one the decade’s best bands constructing their masterpieces. And that this collection is titled Demos Vol. 1, let’s pray they continue to let us peek into the vault.

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