Big Thief’s newest record Capacity has been widely acclaimed, earning rave reviews from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and just about every other publication that gave it the time of day. This was my introduction to the Brooklyn quartet, and after spending just a short while with their music, it’s easy to hear where the group feels most at home.
Lead-singer Adrianne Lenker is the star of the show, often controlling the direction of the record with her delicate voice. At 11 tracks in length, Capacity is a swoon of intimate folk-rock songs that capture precious stories with pretty guitar melodies and tender vocal performances.
The record starts off with the slow-paced, “Pretty Things”. It’s a decent intro track; I especially like the simile, “lips like sugar” – simple, but sang convincingly with heartfelt concern. The second track, “Shark Smile” breathes life into the album. The song paints a picture of two lovers sharing a final moment on the highway before a fatal car crash over a nice bouncy rhythm, easily making it one of my favorite cuts on the entire record. It’s been at or near the top of my ‘recently played’ list since the moment I heard it.
From this point on begins a stretch of inconsistency that ends up holding the album back. The momentum gained by the melodramatic “Watering” is halted by the next two songs, and “Objects” is catchy enough for me to whistle its melody for a day or two, but otherwise the track isn’t all that memorable.
“Coma” wants to be deep and moving, and while the refrain the song eventually breaks into is pretty, I seldom see myself in the mood to listen to it unless I’m in my feelings, looking out the window on a long drive. “Mythological Beauty” ends up being the highlight on the album’s back half: a dreamy tune that recounts touching memories from Lenker’s unique relationship with her mother as a child.
My favorite moments on Capacity prove to be those where the band is able to match Lenker’s unique vocal takes with some creativity of their own, musically speaking. When these qualities meet, the end result is mesmerizing. However, the group’s gentle charm, which is one of their greatest strengths, also proves to be the trait that makes Capacity a little monotonous. Big Thief is clearly very grounded in their sound, and I think they are quite talented as a group, but this project, though very personal, feels a bit run of the mill from a musical perspective.
In the right time and place, Capacity is a good album. Instrumentally it’s refined and well put together, and Lenker’s voice brings an overwhelming sense of endearment to each song. I would actually be intrigued to see the band in concert, as I’m sure I would enjoy a bulk of these songs much more in a live setting than I do listening to them in headphones.