After making waves on critics' year-end lists and on tour in support of their debut LP, 2016's Masterpiece, Big Thief follow it up almost exactly a year later with Capacity, a thematic and sonic sequel. Lead singer and songwriter Adrianne Lenker has remarked that the albums are indeed "connected." While she still writes entirely from personal experience here, not invoking characters, the act of releasing the band's debut -- a record with moments that hit the musical equivalent of a raw nerve -- along with playing the songs over and over live, provided a sort of healing through immersion that can be heard in the increased composure of Capacity. The record is still intense and affecting, though, with guitars that sometimes seem to sob in sympathy with Lenker's vulnerable lyrics and delivery. The latter two take center stage right from the opener, "Pretty Things." It's an explicit solo acoustic guitar piece that has her addressing concepts of masculinity, femininity, and related interpretations of strength ("There's a woman inside of me/There's one inside of you, too/And she don't always do pretty things"). Later, "Mythological Beauty" includes the recounting of a near-fatal childhood event (from the perspective of both her and her mother) where the family treehouse collapsed, hitting Lenker on the head. The devastating "Shark Smile" opens with a cacophony of electric guitar and drums before settling into a catchy folk-rock tune about a car accident where half of a couple is killed. It's one of those pretty songs where the subject matter may be easy to overlook. There's plenty more heavy material to uncover (including a song called "Coma"), though it's all wrapped in a captivating musicality that combines the power of folk storytelling, poetry, and rock angst. In the case of Capacity, it's a quiet power.
by Marcy Donelson