New Music Reviews: Big Thief, Jane Weaver, and Forenzics

I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s batch of records. Rootsy indie darlings Big Thief deliver the record that should stand as their career legacy. I’m a year late on Jane Weaver’s impressive Flock, while Eddie Rayner and Tim Finn recontextualise their work with Split Enz as Forenzics.

Big Thief

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You

2022, 9.5/10
Big Thief’s fifth album comes across as their bid for a deserved legacy. It’s a double album, filled with musings on mortality – it feels tailor-made for future editions of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. If so, it’s thoroughly deserved – the band have continued to hone their craft, with Adrianne Lenker’s shaman-like vocals floating over the band’s intuitive interplay. Even though it’s a lengthy double, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You is Big Thief’s most accessible album to date – the songs are more direct and more diverse than ever before.

Drummer James Krivchenia produces for the first time, and also suggested the album’s concept – the tracks were recorded in four different studios, with four different engineers, in order to capture the range of Lenker’s songwriting. The 20-song tracklist was chosen from 45 songs, and with a band in their prime, it’s an embarrassment of riches. It often returns to its bedrock of acoustic folk and country, but it takes in psychedelia and rock.

For naysayers who despair of the state of modern music, fabulous country-tinged tunes like ‘Red Moon’ and ‘No Reason’ are timeless and elegant. The band also sound terrific on rockier tunes – the buzzing guitars of ‘Simulation Swarm’ and the bass riff of ‘Little Things’ are among the finest moments on a great record. Given the amount that the other band members add to the arrangements, I never realised that Lenker’s the sole credited writer on most Big Thief songs. Her musings on morality, are singular – on ‘Spud Infinity’ she sings “Baking too long in the sun of spud infinity”.

Big Thief are the premier indie rock band right now, and Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You is their most accessible record yet.


Jane Weaver

Flock

2021, 8/10
English psychedelic folk artist Jane Weaver has been around for decades without ever appearing on my radar – she formed her high school band, Kill Laura, back in 1989. Weaver has warmed into her work – the albums that she’s recorded in her forties, like 2014’s The Silver Globe, have enjoyed acclaim, and Flock is her first entry into the UK top 40. Flock adds a poppier sheen than before – hitting a sweet spot between tuneful accessibility and intellectual exploration.

Flock is subtly diverse – lead single ‘The Revelation of Super Visions’ falls somewhere between Stereolab and Prince. There’s plenty of intelligent, slightly twisted pop – ‘Pyramid Schemes’, ‘Heartlow’, and ‘Sunset Dreams’ are other hooky songs.

But Weaver’s also good at dreamy pop music – ‘All The Things You Do’ is hypnotic, while ‘Stages of Phases’ would be close to a blues song without its electronic sheen. Closer ‘Solarised’ is another standout, with its synthy shimmer.

Flock hits a lovely sweet spot – creative, intelligent, and accessible.


Forenzics

Shades and Echoes

2022, 7.5/10
It’s not uncommon for established acts to rework the songs they wrote in their youth -popular music history is full of unplugged albums and orchestral reworkings. But former Split Enz members Tim Finn and Eddie Rayner have approached the material from the early years of their celebrated band in a different way on Shade and Echoes.

The project’s genesis goes back to 1976 when Rayner was recording the rhythm section for the song ‘Walking Down A Road’ with Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera. Fellow Roxy alumni Eno came into the studio and remarked on his enjoyment of the barebones rhythm track. This inspired the repurposing of Enz songs on Shades and Echoes. Rayner said “a large part of the album is short snippets of Split Enz songs we felt perhaps might have originally been underused, where we felt we could add rhythm tracks and new melodies over the top.”New songs are developed from fragments of old ones – sometimes it’s blatant, like the recycling of the introduction for ‘Give It A Whirl’ on ‘Shut the Door’, while other songs on Shades and Echoes were developed by jams by keyboardist Eddie Rayner and his band. Former Enz percussionist Noel Crombie plays on the record, while Manzanera plays guitar on a couple of tracks.

The ideas behind Shades and Echoes are unique enough that it made me interested in the record, but it stands up really well in its own right – it’s much more enjoyable than Rayner’s reworkings of Split Enz material as ENZSO in the 1990s. I haven’t followed Tim Finn’s solo projects for years, but he’s excellent here – hitting the right blend between nostalgic, romantic elder statesman and recalling some of the zaniness of his days in Split Enz. He’s suitably pretentious on standout track ‘Premiere Fois’, while the track based on ‘Walking Down The Road’, ‘Walking’ is a great opener.

Shades and Echoes is surprisingly satisfying,

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15 Comments

  1. The Big Theif track sounds amazing. It so genuine and real. Excellent track..I see they have been on many shows. I like the country edge they have also.

    • I think Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker is the closest thing we have right now to a rootsy auteur like Neil Young or Bob Dylan. Has a distinct vision, a great band, and keeps pumping out great songs.

      • I listened to a few of them last night and didn’t find a bad one in the bunch. I’m going to listen to some more tonight.

      • I was going to mention that. Have you ever played one? They are light…I mean they feel like a toy…I have a copy…I love playing it.

  2. Big Thief sound intriguing. I heard the name before but not their music. Based on a few tunes I sampled from their new album, I’d be curious to listen to more of their music.

    I only know about Split Enz because of the Crowded House connection. Unlike the latter, I don’t recall hearing any Split Enz songs on the radio back in Germany. It looks like their popularity beyond New Zealand, Australia and Canada was limited.

    • Big Thief are well worth exploring. I find the earlier stuff more cryptic and harder to access, but the new stuff is really strong and a bit more streamlined. ‘Not’ and ‘Cattails’ are great songs from their pair of 2019 albums.

      Split Enz have a weird split career – in the mid 1970s they were an art-rock band like Roxy Music or Genesis, while by 1980 they were a new wave band like Squeeze.

  3. The new Big Thief is a real favourite on my turntable, it’s just so rich and brilliantly crafted. I don’t know of many bands that have managed such a sustained run of brilliant album after brilliant album

    • Yeah, I think the first two are kind of them getting into stride, but the last three have all been excellent.

    • It’s pretty beloved, right? Along with the new Black Country, New Road it’s scooping up a lot of the critical love so far this year.

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