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Big Thief – Two Hands: New Album Review

Indie-folk band Big Thief started recording Two Hands five days after completing U.F.O.F. (released in May 2019). U.F.O.F. was recorded in a cabin in Washington state, and has a mystical backwoods atmosphere that recalls The Band. In comparison, Two Hands was recorded in the Texas desert with minimal overdubs, and reflects the surroundings.

Big Thief’s productivity and level of quality is astounding. Bassist Max Oleartchik has estimated that in addition to their four studio records, the band have also played more than 700 shows, phenomenal for a band that only released their first album in 2016. Guitarist Buck Meek and leader Adrianne Lenker both also released solo albums in 2018.

While U.F.O.F. was primarily acoustic, Two Hands is often based around electric instruments. The harder-edged pieces like ‘Forgotten Eyes’ and ‘Shoulders’ recall the primal energy of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Vocalist Adrianne Lenker’s thin, emotional voice recalls Young’s pinched whine, while the band’s intuitive interplay recalls Crazy Horse, even though their touch is far lighter than the Horse’s primeval stomp.

It’s particularly effective when Lenker’s voice creaks on the second track ‘Forgotten Eyes’. Her raw vocal performance is the highlight of the song, cracking on “everybody needs a home and deserves protection”.

Even more epic is ‘Not’, Lenker spitting out a series of images (“It’s not the hunger revealing/Nor the ricochet in the cave/Nor the hand that is healing/Nor the nameless grave”) before the band launches into a lengthy instrumental, showcasing Buck Meek’s guitar soloing, again reminiscent of Neil Young.

The raw rock of ‘Not’, ‘Forgotten Eyes’, and ‘Shoulders’ leave the biggest impression from Two Hands, coming after the subdued mysticism of U.F.O.F.. The intricate guitars of ‘Two Hands’ and the gentle opener ‘Rock and Sing’ would have fitted onto U.F.O.F., even though the overall sound of Two Hands is rawer and more cathartic.

U.F.O.F. and Two Hands are both high among my favourite albums of 2019. If forced to choose a favourite, I’d opt for the dense backwoods mysticism of U.F.O.F., but the sparse desert crackle of Two Hands is an excellent companion piece.

11 thoughts on “Big Thief – Two Hands: New Album Review Leave a comment

  1. Their sound is very organic. It took me one listen to get accustomed to her voice but after the second time, I was fine. It’s a good voice…just different.
    I like bands like this that sound tight but not too tight…they leave the human element in and don’t polish the soul out of a song.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like her voice fine – it’s tuneful and expressive. I only realised that it’s a little unusual when people commented on the U.F.O.F. review. I think it is similar to Neil Young, although more in tune – kind of thin and keening. Thanks for listening!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sometimes when I listen to music and something surprises me. That is what happened when I listened. After I listened to it and saw the live video…it fit. I remember feeling the same about some Dylan songs the first time around.

        It’s refreshing to hear a band not trying to be perfect and to be loose but tight at the same time.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m still getting to know U.F.O.F. It didn’t really grab me initially – though I’m not sure how much of that was to do with expectation (folk I know gave it some mad love). I’ll need to give this one a listen, as it might just appeal to me a bit more.

    (I haven’t read your U.F.O.F. review, so I’ll go check that out now).

    Liked by 1 person

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