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erin's artist of (last) month: big thief

Does anyone else think that Spotify is coming up with the most irrelevant, random microgenres for music right now? Seeing that my top “genre” has been labelled Indie Twang makes my Indie Wang retreat into my body, much like a moth spinning itself back into a cocoon (it simply couldn’t take anymore – and neither can my hypothetical balls). Please, Spotify, as soon as you can explain to me exactly what lilith, crank wave, dreamo, and the enduringly ridiculous pov: indie are, and why they deserve to be their own genres, I will let go of my mild irritation with your platform (lie).  


Nevertheless, leading the Indie Twang charge, and my artist of this month, is Big Thief! Although I do not think the band deserves the indignity of being deemed Indie Twang, that seems to be where they have ended up. I first came across Adrianne Lenker, and by extension, Big Thief, whilst idly scrolling through a cousin’s friend’s Spotify playlists. As I always say: why trust your own shitty Discover Weekly when you can do your own searching through the music taste of much cooler people?  


Anyway, what better way to celebrate this grey February than with the dulcet tones of an American dissatisfied with life? Since we’re on the subject of stupid genres, I would define Big Thief’s sound as “midmidwest” – not quite as straight, white, and pathetic as Midwest emo tends to be, but with enough constant guitar and general depression that they could still fit in if they tried.  

I personally started with the song “Mary” from the album Capacity (2017), a very slow, very sad song which actually featured – briefly – in season one of The Umbrella Academy (2019! What a time!). Despite the album featuring “Shark Smile”, the track that features on most indie playlists, Capacity is probably my least favourite Big Thief album. There’s no discernible reason for this judgement – if I had to guess, I think I’ve just grown tired of the generic indie folk sound recently, which I feel this album embodies. My mood is looking up these days, fellow gays, and my sad, introspective music playlists are now saved for truly special occasions – like when I burn toast.  


Masterpiece, however, is an album to listen to in its entirety. I come to the defence of Big Thief’s initial 2016 LP, which is often ranked at the bottom of tier lists; Rough Trade Email Marketing Manager, Mathilde Bataillé, I dislike your taste (or the lack thereof). This is an incredibly sexy indie album! From the title track, “Masterpiece” with very relatable lyrics like “this place smells like piss and beer” (Logie’s Lane every Wednesday night), to the dynamic “Real Love,” Masterpiece does not deserve to be at the bottom of the heap. There is too much raw emotion and brain-scratching guitar for this release to be dismissed outright. Because I don’t like to use silly buzzwords, unlike big Mathilde from Rough Trade (the word “chromaticism” was last new and exciting perhaps in the Baroque period), I shall simply say that Masterpiece does, in fact, deserve to be classed as one in some respects.  


Moving on to their more recent works, the album U.F.O.F (2019) expands on two songs from frontman Adrianne Lenker’s solo album abysskiss (also a good listen). U.F.O.F takes on a more folky sound – mirroring Lenker’s own releases – and the darker themes of Big Thief’s first two releases have retired to the back of the lyrics.  


However, unfortunately, U.F.O.F pales in my eyes compared to 2022’s Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You. One of my friends once told me I would be a terrible parent, which I am still slightly offended by, however, he did have a point because I heavily play favourites. Readers, I am a fan of layers, whether that be in fashion, oil paintings, or lasagnes. Exhibit A: I have a phone which folds on top of itself. This album does a wonderful job of fulfilling my desires for the multifaceted. For one, there is a jaw harp present on at least one track as Big Thief shifts from the Midwest to country*. “Spud Infinity” is a wonderful little track about both self-acceptance and the acceptance of others; it makes me want to invest in a pickup truck, a harmonica, and homebrew some sort of alcohol in a shack somewhere. It even has a Wes Anderson-esque outro in the use of snare rolls. What is not to like? “Little Things,” another of my favourite tracks, switches the vibe from hillbilly to 2000s-woman-on-hill. I have always had an obsession with Beabadobee-esque dreamy guitar, and this song absolutely checks that box. “Flower of Blood” continues on the same vein, wrapping up lyrics which recount what seems like really good sex (get in Adrianne), with instrumentals that sound like they belong in the first season of Skins. This genre-bending little gem is my favourite Big Thief release to date. Lenker proves that her voice really does fit into every style of music and provides continuity to an album which otherwise leaps from folk to bluegrass to indie, among others. 


In short, I could probably go on for another 5,000 words on the virtues of Big Thief and how wrong big Mathilde is. I haven’t even mentioned Adrianne Lenker’s solo works (listen to a-sides), or the internet famous “Vampire Empire.” However, I’m fully aware that most of you have an attention span akin to a jar of pickled onions, so instead, I will leave you with this excerpt and wait for it to stop raining.  


erin (any pronouns)

*And if you insist on hating country, grow up. It’s like hating tomatoes – suitable only under the age of 5. 

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