Following quickly on the heels of the spacey, artful U.F.O.F. -- by five months, to be exact -- Big Thief's fourth long-player, Two Hands, was recorded just days after its contrasting sister album. However, while U.F.O.F. was tracked at a wooded facility outside of Seattle, the band deliberately moved to the 100-plus-degree environs of a desert studio west of El Paso for Two Hands. The humid-versus-dry distinction makes for a convenient musical simile, as Two Hands commits to a crisper, more jagged sound on a rawer set of indie rock songs. Though less improvised-sounding on the whole than its predecessor, the loose Two Hands was recorded live with few overdubs by the same crew (producer Andrew Sarlo and engineer/mixer Dom Monks, though drummer James Krivchenia helped mix this time around). The album opens with "Rock and Sing," a short, lullaby-like introduction. Typically intimate lyrics from singer/songwriter Adrianne Lenker sound more stream of consciousness than composed on the track, with lines like "Hand me that cable/Plug into anything/I am unstable/Rock and sing, rock and sing." It's followed by catchier album highlight "Forgotten Eyes," which settles into the visceral, full-band folk-rock of Big Thief's earlier albums but with a distinctly immediate recording quality. (Though any such descriptions are relative in the case of this band.) Likewise living and breathing, the simmering "Not" has a slightly out-of-breath Lenker delivering near-constant lyrics alongside insistent drums, fuzzy guitar chords, and dissonant, impulsive guitar effects until the song breaks open into a sometimes-screeching jam just past the midway point. Other songs on Two Hands are memorable for different reasons, such as the quirkier guitar tones of the skittering "Two Hands," the folksy harmonies of "Replaced" (by guitarist/co-writer Buck Meek), and the stark tenderness of "Wolf" ("How you seem to follow through/On everything you yearn for"). While it's hard to talk about Two Hands in 2019 without the context of the stunning U.F.O.F., the album's quality stands on its own, offering its own grade of intimacy, sound, and feel for alternate moods.
Two Hands Review
by Marcy Donelson