Lacking any gimmicks or conceits, Big Thief's new album is outstandingSaddle Creek, 2017
Purchase: Bandcamp / Amazon
8.5 / 10
At the time I’m writing this, Capacity has not been released, and yet, I’m confident this is an album that people will be kicking themselves for not getting into sooner whenever the end of the year rolls around. You’ll see it on those reliable Best of the Year lists, either has a bona fide hit, or as an underrated gem, or as an unassuming masterpiece. For 2016, it was Pinegrove’s Cardinal. Before them, it was Hop Along’s Painted Shut. Before that, it was probably either Lady Lamb or Torres.
So let me just get to it: Big Thief‘s new album is very, very good.
When the Brooklyn band released their debut, Masterpiece, the album title was playful. It was playful because hey, it’s not gonna be a real masterpiece, right? That’s something that only ego-crazed stars, like your Kanye Wests, your Sun Kil Moons, would do. You get the sense that if Big Thief named Capacity “Masterpiece”, the band would be at risk of ostentatiously bragging, rubbing people’s face in this thing. In many ways, it’s hard to articulate what about Capacity is so great, and that’s because its key strength is its songwriting.
Songwriting. It’s the unquantifiable, mysterious glue that holds everything together. Great songwriting is the only thing you need to make an excellent album. You can get away with incoherently playing your instruments (Nirvana). You can get away with an awful voice (Bob Dylan). And you can get away with a lot of bullshit, but none of that matters as long as you’ve got good songs. But what makes a good song? If we knew with any real certainty, we wouldn’t need music reviews. It would be empirical, measurable, and easily self-evident.
At the risk of praising Big Thief’s album too much, it’s full of great songwriting. Like the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Nirvana, or whomever you’d like to plug into this equation, these songs spill out of Big Thief like they were some platonic ideal. Like those songs were just always there, and the band is simply the medium that happened to channel them into existence. There are no seams, so to speak. With a couple of exceptions, these songs are under 4 minutes, and they all adhere to the typical verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus structure. Every chorus is strong, sturdy, and beautiful, whether it be the title track (tonally similar to their last album’s title track), the strolling “Mythological Beauty”, or the bare “Pretty Things”.
So why do I predict this album will fall under the radar? It’s simple: it doesn’t have any gimmicks. There’s no outrageous behind-the-scenes behavior (thanks, Father John Misty, Sun Kil Moon). There’s no bizarre genre-blending. There are no virtuoso performances. Capacity isn’t audacious. It’s not outrageous. The sounds you’ve heard on Capacity are sounds you’ve heard before, but rarely have you heard them sound this pleasant, effective, and confident.
I love this album, and you will too.