Big Thief

TrackAlbum / Single
Real LoveMasterpiece
Pretty ThingsCapacity
Breathe In My LungsMythological Beauty B-side


Big Thief photo

Big Thief (l to r): Max Oleartchik (bass), James Krivchenia (drums), Adrianne Lenker (guitar, vocals), Buck Meek (guitar, vocals) – photo: Shervin Lainez (2016)



Big Thief playlist


Contributor: Paul Jenkins

Big Thief are a folk-rock band from New York. They are a conduit for Adrianne Lenker’s elliptical songs of survival, loss and yearning – intimate and intricate pieces punctuated by occasional shards of dissonant, anguished feedback. Sometimes I think they sound like Pixies if it was Kristin Hersh who’d befriended Joey Santiago and not Black Francis, other times they remind me of Karen Dalton, Kate Bush, even Cocteau Twins. Don’t be put off by the folk-rock thing, they are a band who defy easy categorisation.



“Old stars/Filling up my throat”

All great debut albums start off with a declaration of intent. Masterpiece’s title track lets you know what Big Thief are all about from the get go – an extraordinary song about the agonies of trying to let go of someone.



“If your speech slurs, if you feel shaky/Meet me out back, I’ll be there waiting”

Love is an ugly, terrible, brutal thing in the wrong hands. Drunkenness, domestic violence, heart attacks – the end of love is here in all its terrible ways, punctuated by the kind of nerve-shredding Pixies-do-the-blues guitar solo to end all such solos.



“Caterpillar on the floor/Can you teach me to transform?”

A song about just wanting someone that little bit too much. And, talking of much, no one ever filled that word with quite as much yearning as Lenker does here.



“There is a meeting in my thighs/Where in thunder and lightning/Men are baptised”

A mildly terrifying song about the masculinity and femininity in all of us, and our dependence on that duality.



“Flight is a beautiful word”

Apparently a song about a dream she’d had the night before, Lenker becomes the first lyricist to get the word ‘consonance’ into a rock song. I say rock song, it’s more of a collapsing semi-waltz, the sound of a band lurching between dreams and reality. I have no idea what I mean by that.



“You won’t recognise your house”

A song sung to a mother who is either physically or metaphorically unconscious, this was the first song I heard by Big Thief. I hadn’t even heard of the band until a well-known music streaming service added it to the end of a short playlist I had made. Coma is unsettling, ethereal and ambiguous.



“Will you love me like you loved me and I’ll never ask for more”

Adrianne explains: “It’s about childhood being brought to life and reignited after the slush of the teenage years” – and it is, arguably, the most beautiful lyric she has written to date. Mary is both mournful and celebratory, a wonderful balancing act and on the live version here, it almost sounds like it’s going to turn into An American Trilogy for a second or two.



“Lifting the edge of her bed, walking a girl to the altar.”

I’m not entirely sure what this song is supposed to be about. I think it’s a conversation between a mother and an unborn child. I could be wrong. It’s a fragile affair, instruments that are barely present adding to the dreamlike quality.



“One ear to your womb, puppy on the floor. Baby’s coming soon …”

As sinister and hypnotic as it is nebulous and delicate, Lenker’s voice takes on an almost Liz Fraser like quality here, almost speaking in tongues.



“Will you love me like you loved me and I’ll never ask for more”

I had the immense privilege of seeing them live in Bristol this year. If they ever come your way, make sure you go. The single greatest gig I’ve ever been to. And when she sang this, it was all I could do not to float away on her sweet harmony. Absolutely jaw dropping.


Big Thief photo 2

Big Thief (2019) – photo: Michael Buishas


Masterpiece (Saddle Creek 2016)
Capacity (Saddle Creek 2017)
U.F.O.F. (4AD 2019)
Two Hands (4AD 2019)

Big Thief official website

Big Thief bandcamp

Big Thief on Discogs

Big Thief biography (Apple Music)


Adrianne Lenker official website

Paul Jenkins is a pop music obsessive living in fear of being found out as the owner of two Tight Fit singles. His opinions on life in general can be gleaned from his Twitter account. He lives in South Wales with his wife, daughter and a collection of Fall gig anecdotes. His other posts on this site are on Arab Strap, Tindersticks, Grandaddy, Fonda 500 and Silver Jews.


(Adrianne Lenker)

Burn up with the water
The floods are on the plains
The planets in a rose
Who knows what they contain?
And my brain is like an orchestra
Playing on, insane
Will you love me like you loved me in the January rain?

Mom and Dad and violins
Somber country silence
The needle stopped the kicking
The clothespins on the floor
And my heart is playing hide and seek
Wait and count to four
Will you love me like you loved me and I’ll never ask for more

What did you tell me Mary
When you were there so sweet and very
Full of field and stars
You carried all of time
Oh and, heavens, when you looked at me
Your eyes were like machinery
Your hands were making artifacts in the corner of my mind

Monastery monochrome
Boom balloon machine and oh
Diamond rings and gutter bones
Marching up the mountain
With our aching planning
High and smiling
Cheap drink
Dark and violent
Full of butterflies
The violent tenderness
The sweetest silence
The clay you find is fortified
We felt unfocused fade the line
The sugar rush
The constant hush
The pushing of the water gush
The marching band
When April ran
May June bugs fly in
Push your gin Jacob
With the tired wiry brandy look
Here you go around Mary in your famous story book

We overcome the sirens
We look both left and right
And I can feel the numbness accompany my plight
And I know that someday soon I’ll see you
But now you’re out of sight
And you’ll kiss me like you used to in the January night…

Read more about Adrianne Lenker’s beautiful song Mary here.

TopperPost #803

1 Comment

  1. David Lewis
    Jul 22, 2019

    Lovely article and an intriguing group. I like the gentleness they bring. Unusual for a NY group.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.