[sic] Magazine

Big Thief – Two Hands

Releasing two albums within six months is clearly the sign of a band on a roll. The way Big Thief approached the creation of May’s masterful U.F.O.F. and new album Two Hands demonstrates a rigour that the band applies to all aspects of their art. Songs seem to flow out of Adrianne Lenker unchecked – it’s just a question of organising these outpourings into albums that resonate.

U.F.O.F. resonates with me deeply, and remains my favourite release of 2019 to date. Having said that, Two Hands is far from a lesser cousin – it’s just a different flavour of great. Presented as the ‘earth twin’ to U.F.O.F.’s ‘celestial twin’, the contrast between the two albums is writ large in their cover art:


In U.F.O.F.’s cool, composed scene, Lenker, Buck Meek, Max Oleartchik and James Krivchenia are framed by radiant foliage and gentle sunlight, befitting music that is measured, contemplative and dewy-eyed with wonder. In contrast, Two Hands finds the four band members crammed into the frame, squinting into bright sunlight. No surprise, then, that U.F.O.F. was recorded in the Pacific Northwest, while Two Hands took shape in the oppressive Texas heat.

Captured mostly live, with few overdubs, the immediacy of Two Hands’ songwriting comes through loud and clear. Big Thief are perpetually touring, and it’s obvious from these performances that the band put the songs through their paces on the road. There’s a tight-but-loose magic to the playing that puts you right there in the room amongst the amps.

If U.F.O.F. concerned itself with reaching out and connecting with ‘the other’, then Two Hands is more about getting back in touch with our own physicality, our ‘Forgotten Eyes’, our ‘Two Hands’, our ‘Shoulders’. Elegant waltz ‘Rock and Sing’ is a gentle entry point before second single ‘Forgotten Eyes’ pushes amp tubes into break-up. The funereal sway of ‘The Toy’ features some devastating lyrical imagery: “Charcoal womb, the jetplanes purr / And the croon, distant as paper / Children burn, faceless vapour”. Then, the title track’s shimmering tangle of percussion and guitar arpeggios is an absolute delight.

It all seems to be leading inexorably towards momentous first single ‘Not’, which is perhaps Big Thief’s best song to date – quite the compliment given the consistently high quality of their discography. On the surface there’s a simple chord progression and an impassioned vocal from Lenker, topped off by a searing Neil Young-esque guitar solo. But it’s the details that make the song hypnotically replayable: James Krivchenia’s backing vocals, Buck Meek’s guitar counter-melody, some metallic percussion in the right channel, plus a band performance that seems to roil and buck as one massive organism.

From there, the album gradually recedes into evening light, as plaintive acoustic lament ‘Wolf’ summons the listener around the campfire, Lenker gently howling the refrain. Late highlight ‘Replaced’ is pure aching country, featuring a star turn from Buck Meek, whose gorgeous twanging backing vocal and understated guitar solo really make the song shine.

While Two Hands may not elevate Big Thief’s sound into the majestic realms of its predecessor, its down-to-earth sound and compelling songwriting make it another great album in the band’s rapidly growing discography. Fingers crossed they don’t discover synthesizers anytime soon…