Big Thief
Masterpiece


3.8
excellent

Review

by Atari STAFF
June 2nd, 2016 | 46 replies


Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: You whisper to a restless ear, can you get me out of here?

Some vocalists just have that special quality to their sound that instantly reels you into their music; Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker is one of those vocalists. Throughout the band’s debut album, Masterpiece, twelve quirky folk-rock tunes flow with style alongside the singer’s mesmerizing and airy delivery. With comparisons already being drawn to the likes of Sharon Van Etten and Hop Along's Frances Quinlan, she has big boots to fill, but manages to leave her own unique imprint on Big Thief's music. Her performance is always charming and flexible, yet it’s just vague enough to give off an unmistakably mysterious vibe.

The instrumentation is pretty dialed down at times on Masterpiece, with Lenker being the obvious star of the show, but it’s not without its pizzazz. ‘Little Arrow’ contains the discreet and muffled strum of an acoustic guitar, as the folk singer’s effortless performance blankets itself over any real sense of structure. The following title track is mid-paced, but feels quite peppy and welcoming following the somber and static-filled introduction. Though only as loud as the production calls for, the guitars are kicked up a notch as Lenker reveals her first truly witty and sarcastic line - Can you get me out of here, this place smells like piss and beer. These biting lyrics are sung with such a joyful sincerity that it’s hard not to feel a sense of warmth amongst the singer’s adorable croon. However, as often as her contagious voice carries the album, her performance is elevated by creative and jarring guitar-work courtesy of Buck Meek. Despite never going too over-the-top, he adds a unique flavor to the experience. On ‘Real Love’, the guitarist closes the song out with a distorted and spastic solo, what feels like an angry response to Lenker’s grim portrait of true love. ‘Humans’ gets similar treatment, with some decidedly bizarre guitar tones, and ‘Animals’ has perhaps the most seductive rhythm on the entire record.

It takes a natural musician with a strong sense of melody to craft a slow burner without entering the realm of boredom. Although all the songs range from slow to mid-tempo on Masterpiece, Lenker’s ability as a songwriter is wholly satisfying. The reflective ‘Paul’ finds the singer at her most poetic, as she admits how far she’d go for a lover’s acceptance in an amusing fashion: I’ll be your record player baby if you know what I mean, I’ll be your real tough cookie with the whisky breath / I’ll be a killer and a thriller and the cause of our death. Despite her confident and clever conduct, there’s a nagging sense of vulnerability throughout her delivery that suggests she’s revealed her most fragile state: it’s this very sensation that makes her such a powerful vocalist. At times, she sounds downright beautiful and joyous, while others, she sounds desperate and alone. She utilizes these various moods to her advantage, adding that extra edge and depth to her songwriting.

In an interview regarding Masterpiece, Lenker revealed the album’s heavy subject matter, describing it “as the process of harnessing pain, loss, and love, while simultaneously letting go, looking into your own eyes through someone else’s, and being okay with the inevitability of death.” Quite the mouthful, really, but the potent themes throughout the album are jolted to life with the musician’s emotional performance. With raw lyricism, and an incredibly strong sense of melody, Big Thief’s Masterpiece contains just about everything one could hope for in a debut album. The hazy but sturdy melodies give off vibes of a much older band, which only raises the bar of expectations higher for the group’s sophomore effort. Among the album’s whimsical nature, it’s nearly impossible not to feel infatuated with Adrianne Lenker’s hypnotizing vocal performance. With a level of quirkiness you’d find in a Regina Spektor album, but with all the restraint of Liz Harris’ work in Grouper, the folk musician is already making a respectable name for herself among her mates in Big Thief. Modern folk fans take note; it’s not every day we get the pleasure of hearing such an accomplished debut.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Slex
June 2nd 2016


6658 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

been hearing a bit about this and this has definitely convinced me to check it out, giving it a listen now

Great review as well, of course

Digging: Full of Hell - Weeping Choir

Atari
Staff Reviewer
June 2nd 2016


24620 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Lovely album, I've been seeing this compared to both Hop Along and Sharon Van Etten across the web.



can't get the embedded track to work, but here's a link to the title track:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oacUgWXrqwc

real love

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTlM_a8swSw

paul

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fbA_agbrOg



also, cheers Freddie, hope you dig it. I'm gonna check your TMP review shortly as well

Digging: Radiator Hospital - Sings "Music for Daydreaming"

Slex
June 2nd 2016


6658 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

appreciate it!

This is already so good, damn. The ending of Real Love and the chorus of Interstate are amazing, standouts for me so far

Gyromania
June 2nd 2016


27240 Comments


guys take a look at the trending albums lol

Atari
Staff Reviewer
June 2nd 2016


24620 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

haha, guess black 'n white is the way to go these days

Conmaniac
Contributing Reviewer
June 2nd 2016


24647 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

what bands do these guys sound like? looks cool

Slex
June 2nd 2016


6658 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i'd say it sounds kinda similar to Mitski and Hop Along, musically

this is great you should check it man

Conmaniac
Contributing Reviewer
June 2nd 2016


24647 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

ooh sounds fun. will do

kylemccluskey
June 2nd 2016


177 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

"...that suggests she’s revealed her most fragile state. It’s this very sensation that makes her such a powerful vocalist."



I do believe that this should be,



"...that suggests she’s revealed her most fragile state: it’s this very sensation that makes her such a powerful vocalist."



Only thing you're missing in this review is just how gorgeous the guitar tones are in the more rock-oriented songs; other than Lenker's voice, they're my favourite element of the album. The album itself is pretty good, however I find the melodies underwhelming too often, and they never, at one moment throughout, managed to surprise me with an unexpected turn. Also, I think it would be best if they focused on writing mostly rock stuff moving forward, sparing the folk tunes for interludes and such. Pretty solid for a debut though, for sure.



Atari
Staff Reviewer
June 2nd 2016


24620 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

cheers for the critique



yeah, I did try to touch on the guitar tones a little bit, but the main selling point for me was definitely the vocals. I'll edit that one part here shortly





djunior
June 2nd 2016


882 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Glad to see a review for this. I saw them open for Yuck back in March then immediately went home and pre-ordered this. solid album

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
June 2nd 2016


41820 Comments


"Throughout the band’s debut album, Masterpiece, are twelve quirky folk-rock tunes that flow with style alongside the singer’s mesmerizing delivery."

you can get rid of the "are" and "that" in this sentence, "throughout" covers those

"Her airy performance is never distinct enough to feel restricted"

I don't really get this, what does sounding distinct have to do with restricting your vocal ability?

otherwise great review man

Digging: Tyler, the Creator - Igor

Atari
Staff Reviewer
June 3rd 2016


24620 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Good points my man, made some edits



U might dig this one, it's quite nice

PowerBlitz
June 3rd 2016


131 Comments


I love that album cover, it reeks of age.

Atari
Staff Reviewer
June 4th 2016


24620 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah, I love the album art as well

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 4th 2016


30775 Comments


Really good review. I kind of skimmed through a few songs and it didn't grab me, but then again after reading this review it sounds like the kind of record that is more about subtle moments. You convinced me to at least give it a real listen.

Digging: Plastic Mermaids - Suddenly Everyone Explodes

Atari
Staff Reviewer
June 4th 2016


24620 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

cheers man, glad to hear it. The title track is so addicting, any tracks standing out to u yet? I've decided Lorraine is one of the most beautiful songs ever that's under 2 minutes

TheBarber
June 5th 2016


3760 Comments


Cool album to listen to with wood around

Digging: Ataraxie - Rsigns

Slex
June 5th 2016


6658 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I think my favorite off of this is Real Love or Interstate. Great album.

TheBarber
June 5th 2016


3760 Comments


Humans rocks too



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