Big Thief – Masterpiece

What class of band has the kind of brash confidence, the ballsy defiance to call their debut album Masterpiece? We are talking about an act’s first tentative cry to be heard, their virgin attempt to stake a claim in the ever churning, cut throat world of the music business.

You are literally stuffing ammunition into the pockets of tired old hacks looking for an angle, looking for the killer put down if they think your record isn’t up to scratch. Enter Brooklyn based outfit Big Thief. They went and did it. Masterpiece.  How could you not want to hear that?

As it turns out, if it was a gesture of confidence, it was in no way misguided; Masterpiece is a magnificent, accomplished debut from a band that have bypassed the ‘promising’ phase to deliver a record of substance and beauty. Singer-songwriter Adrianne Lenker performs both her roles in the band to a remarkably high standard; her captivating vocals and incisive words are the bands most obvious selling point but it’s the dynamic with guitarist and partner Buck Meek that elevates their debut to a different level.

Meek’s sinuous guitar work, perfectly complements Lenker’s plaintive, affecting voice and the result is a hook laden treat, with hints of Pavement, Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen making for an often stunning collection of alt-rock songs.
The arrangements are simple; guitar, bass and drums; no frills rock that derives its strength from the power of the words and the music’s adherence to a spartan, pared down mix of slow burning ballads and melodic rockers.

A word of caution: track one ‘Little Arrow’ is a brief and underwhelming low –fi  opener and entirely unrepresentative of what is to follow, so if you are one of those people who lives by the thirty second rule, you should revisit Masterpiece again – from track two onwards, they rarely put a foot wrong.

The album springs to life with the muscular title track and ‘Vegas’ before ‘Real Love’ offers the first glimpse into Lenker’s ability to stop you dead in your tracks  with lyrics like  ‘Having your face hit,  Having your lip split,  By the one who loves you…. Real love makes your lungs black,  Real love is a heart attack..’

When they slow things down, they are equally impressive; the trio of songs ‘Lorraine’, ‘Paul’ and ‘Randy’ are beautifully understated vignettes, permitting us a glimpse of fleeting moments with these characters that left their mark on Lenker to varying degrees.

With Masterpiece, Big Thief play to their strengths; they don’t attempt to break new ground or explore new sonic terrain; these are simple, heartfelt songs exploring universal themes from Lenker’s unique perspective.

It’s a stunning album that comes very close to living up to its title. Highly recommended.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)