Big Thief makes the most human folk music of today. Since releasing back-to-back albums Masterpiece and Capacity in 2016 and 2017, the band has focused on touring, only releasing a 30–minute experimental EP Wide Winged Bird last May. This weekend, that tour will bring them to Philly’s legendary First Unitarian Church on Saturday, October 20

The band made their breakthrough with Masterpiece, an album lauded by the media for its balance of darkness and lightness in its lyrics and its melodies. The former is largely the result of Big Thief frontwoman Adrianne Lenker, a Minnesota native who says music has been a part of her life since she came into the world; her father apparently played the acoustic guitar when she was born. 

Starting her songwriting career in her early teens, Lenker took inspiration from the vulnerability of artists like Elliott Smith, wanting to write as deeply and true as he did. And if Masterpiece isn’t a masterful achievement of that goal, then Capacity undeniably is. In songs like “Mythological Beauty,” “Watering,” or even the title track, she writes of haunting memories of assault and injury that would be almost unbearable if not for the curling comfort of her voice. 

Credit: Shervin Lainez

Lenker’s most recent work is her solo album, abysskiss, which we featured as one of the essential albums of the past month. Her strong–willed vulnerability and penchant for the craft of storytelling is as obvious throughout this new album as it is in her work with Big Thief. While she is set to play a solo show at First Unitarian in February 2019, what makes the sold–out show this weekend so unmissable is the way her bandmates lift, steer, and complement her lyrics of alternately low despair and romanticized elation. 

But despite the often frightening troubles Lenker circles around, the music of Big Thief is consistently calming. The drums steady the heartbeat of their audience, and the guitars add a country–like twang to the background that makes even the most depressive lyricism danceable. In their sound and their words is a capacity to understand human struggle, to take the specifics of one’s own youthful memories and make them accessible, understandable, and moving to all who hear them. Big Thief makes the kind of music that suits all expression of human emotion, whether it be crying, or holding another in your arms, or even lying in bed at night, “watching the lines of headlights through your screen.”

The glistening and ethereal sound of quiet songs like “Paul” or even rocking ones like “Masterpiece,” show the humble artistry of Big Thief—the way they strive for a sound that they love more than any other goal of money or fame. This humility is almost certainly what ensures their continued success. As they prioritize spirituality over materiality, they find those everlasting virtues that have remained with humanity since its inception. In her words, Lenker reaches to those darkest and most primal spaces of her mind, and in sharing them, helps you to find the meaning in your own.


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