When COVID-19 blew up regular life all over the world, so many bands and artists were forced to cancel and postpone touring dates and in some cases, were forced to retreat home while on the road. Big Thief was in that exact predicament. The Brooklyn based band were on the European leg of their tour promoting the two albums they released last year, U.F.O.F. and Two Hands, and lead vocalist Adrienne Lenker and the band had no choice but to fly back to America. When she returned, Lenker decamped to a one room cabin in remote western Massachusetts and fell in love with it. She decided she wanted to try to capture the feeling of the space and enlisted engineer Philip Weinrobe to help.
Over the next couple of months, Lenker and Weinrobe transformed the room into a makeshift studio and recorded the songs that make up her two brand new albums songs and instrumentals. With songs, nine of the eleven tracks were freshly written during the recording and they act as a soothing reminder that even when everything seems to be falling apart, there is still so much beauty out there in the world.
The album kicks off with “two reverse” and it is lovely. Lenker’s voice is so compelling no matter what kind of production she chooses to illuminate it. Specifically here, it is bare yet overwhelmingly lush. The sound of her acoustic guitar and voice absolutely fill the entire space she recorded it in and the immediate feeling of it all is like slipping a warm, weighted blanket over all your anxieties. While the sound of songs is extremely consoling there is a darkness that runs through the proceedings. “ingydar”, named after Lenker’s aunt’s old horse, has a skipping groove that is punctuated by lyrics such as “Everything eats and is eaten/Time is fed” which feels like it can be taken in context of the track as a sinister statement as well as pensively reflective. Recorded entirely analogue without any digital interference, songs is imbued with such an amazing warmth that it is impossible to not just absolutely sink into it. Album standout “anything” is a gorgeous tome filled with striking imagery and an absolute breathtaking chorus that is also a remarkable ear worm, showcasing Lenker’s deft touch with vocal melodies when she sings “And I don’t wanna talk about anything/I don’t wanna talk about anything/I wanna kiss, kiss your eyes again”. “heavy focus” is a lilting waltz that floats right through you while “half return” is full of glorious tension and sharp lyrics like “Honey in your mouth when you gave me my name/Tears in your eyes when you pull it like a chain”. “come” is an elegant elegy to letting go that is striking for the poetry of its lyrics.
The entirety of the album is transportive. Even through the fragility of the songs and performance, it feels as if Lenker physically grabs you and places you directly in front of herself, singing these songs in a cabin in the woods. It’s ironic that this project wasn’t planned as it couldn’t have happened, or turned out this way if they had tried. Circumstances forced Big Thief off the road and in turn Lenker off the map and into desolation to relax and heal from years of hard work. Being the artist that she is though, even away from everything, in one of the most confusing times our generation has ever gone through, Lenker was able to channel the way she felt personally and made it infinitely relatable to us all.
Order Songs by Adrienne Lenker here