There is a certain beauty in the Chihuahuan desert, its imposing cliffs towering over crests of creosote. Sparse bushes dot the empty landscape, interrupting the breathtaking vista with brief moments of life. And among all of this, a mere black speck on the glittering mesa settles comfortably in the din of deafening silence. Swathes of saguaro surrounding them, Big Thief stands solitary on their stage, soundscape as seductive as splendorous silvery sands.
Big Thief’s newest album, Two Hands, evokes the same sense of adventure and beauteous desolation as the desert it was recorded in. With the album comprised almost solely of live recordings, it manages to achieve a sort of kineticism and activity in the delivery of each song. Staying true to its soulfulness, guitar riffs layer onto one another in “Shoulders”, lyrics a blaze of mourning for a mother so distant. The guitars are similarly dexterous in “The Toy”, perfectly complementing band frontwoman Adrianne Lenker’s voice and bringing out the timbre of her musicality. Tapping on a fresh vein of feeling, the band carves out a unique sense of emotionality in its music and embraces the lonely scene around them.
It is so beautifully done in their song, “Not”. Eruditely situating the landscape’s splendor in their canon, the band draws from a desert humming with life and energy, accomplishing so much more in describing what’s not there rather than what is. Yet these things are ‘not’. It subverts our expectations of lurid, vivid observations on life through cerebral, pretentious lyrics and does so, so much with absence. It is the heat. It is the crowd. It is the fire lapping up the creek and the light from between the eaves. It is put best by the album’s title track, Two Hands:
“And the more that we try
To figure through the answers
To repeat ourselves
To deny, deny”