Review Summary: songs for your living room, sung from someone else'sCapacity
is half asleep. Capacity
is a friend who has survived through more than anyone should have to. Capacity
is kind. It’s in desperate need of an audience, too, and I’m fascinated by its story; even if I have to colour in some of the details with my own paint. I am not a good painter, but I am stirred by what’s already in front of me.
“You won’t recognize your own house”
Why? What caused the titular coma here? The fine points escape me. I think what I can glean from Adrienne Lenker’s poetry, apart from the fact that I have a horrible eye for detail, is that capacity is an end and not a means. The lyrics are artefacts of longing, of people “all caught up inside”, like they’re snagged between trauma and hope.
“Oh, by the grace of this dream”
But this record is intently focused on the hope. These songs unfold with a whisper, polite and sincere in a way that only a quiet optimist can be. For perspective, the loudest this album gets arrives towards the end of Great White Shark
. Even then, the trebly, folk-rock guitars bounce off each other with finesse (an oxymoron, but it rings true), completely wary that the fragile tales they uphold could well shatter from the noise.
“I was just five and you were twenty-seven / praying, ‘don’t let my baby die’”
The tales may be fragile, but Lenker is not defined by her suffering. Though these memories are vivid and painfully inescapable, she stays on the outside looking in, deconstructing events in order to learn from them, and to empathise with every perspective that isn’t her own. Coma
-- a song of radio static and comfortable silence – plays like the soundtrack to a sepia-toned home video, and Lenker studies that scratched old film until she can relate the subjects to her present day. She is wiser for it.
“Evelyn’s kiss was oxygen”
Melody and poetry dovetail into one another perfectly throughout Capacity
– the hushed acoustic tones that make up the record allow Lenker a sense of what is important. People are important, and so she gives them names and positions them at the centre of her narrative. Little things are important, and so she weighs them down with the solemn strumming of her guitar. Processing emotions is important, and so she clears her head of debris with a poetic passage or two (seriously, the use of imagery in Mary
is incredibly poignant). In every instance, the drums plod along gently, the guitars shimmer and the voice sighs. It gives these chapters, these self-contained stories, plenty of room to breathe.
“You have a mythological beauty”
This is an album that refuses to be represented by your favourite songs, because the very concept of a ‘favourite’ is reductive. It doesn’t exist for you to move the catchiest hooks to a Spotify playlist and it sure as hell doesn’t exist for you to forget about it as soon as it’s finished. In fact, the record is a tight-knit family of songs that are profoundly introspective and affecting. Big Thief are a smart band, and I guess irony is not lost on them: Masterpiece
did an excellent job of proving they had the Capacity
to craft some beautiful folk-rock tunes, but Capacity
really, genuinely comes close to being a Masterpiece
. And we’re only two albums in.