Brooklyn's Big Thief has made a big stir in a short period of time. It was only four years ago that singer and guitarist Adrianne Lenker, guitarist Buck Meek, bassist Max Oleartchik and drummer James Krivchenia came together and it’s been three years since they released their debut album, Masterpiece. The quartet's second album, Captivity, was released in 2017 and the following year, Lenker's third solo album, called abysskiss, followed and she visited WFUV too.
In 2019, Big Thief is stirring things into a big storm of creativity with two albums released within five months of each other: spring's U.F.O.F. (which the band discussed during an FUV Live session) and now autumn's Two Hands.
Big Thief recorded U.F.O.F. in June 2018 at Bear Creek Studio, a secluded space in Woodinville, Washington. Upon completing that session, the band headed to the Texas desert — Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, near the Mexican border — to record some more. The scenery couldn’t have been any different and it was a shift from Washington's cool, damp weather and lush surroundings to arid, hot and dusty Texas. The baking desert is where Two Hands was recorded.
Since the two albums were recorded side by side, with just days separating the sessions, in Big Thief's bio, the band describes the two albums as siblings: U.F.O.F. is the “celestial twin” and Two Hands is the “earth twin.” Why make such a drastic location change in such a short period of time? It was quartet's goal to make sure the two albums had their own identity.
Two Hands has a bare, stripped-down, and straightforward quality, whereas U.F.O.F. was more opulent, cerebral, and otherworldly. On Two Hands tracks “Replaced” and “Shoulders,” both have a live-to-tape studio ambience. Where U.F.O.F. shimmered, Two Hands is more raw, as on the scorched, ragged guitar solo that drives “Not,” delivered with an impassioned vocal from Lenker. She also shines on “Forgotten Eyes," a folky vehicle for her honest, keening vocals and distorted guitars.
Almost everything on Two Hands was recorded live with minimal overdubbing; Big Thief is a tight band that plays well off each other. There is some familiarity to some tracks on Two Hands; some are older songs (like "Shoulders") that have been floating around in the band’s live repertoire for a number of years.
As was the case with Big Thief’s three previous albums, Two Hands was produced by Andrew Sarlo. Lenker wrote all of the album’s tunes, collaborating with Meek on “Replaced.”
It's apt to think of Big Thief’s two 2019 albums as siblings, but they're not really twins or as two halves of a whole. Both releases are more like bookends sitting apart on a shelf — or even on different shelves. They are the same in design, but occupy alternate spaces. Born of the desert, Two Hands revels in the powerful depth of Lenker's lyricism and the tightness and toughness this remarkably prolific band.