The headlights began to reflect off of the road ahead as the car twisted through shadowy roads hidden near Indiana’s Brown County. I was visiting my brother Jack, three years older and a music-obsessed journalism student, who always knows about the newest bands and albums, and who drove my developing obsession with music growing up. Taylor, Jack’s best friend and our driver that night, had the aux cord, playing a song I had heard a couple times in passing.
“Oh the last time I saw Paul
I was horrible and almost let him in…”
Ethan, another within our close-knit friend group, asked who was playing the song, and commented that he liked it. Taylor and Jack explained their recently developed affinity for this band, Big Thief. Taylor said if she could change her voice, she wanted to have a voice like Adrianne Lenker, the lead singer.
It was obvious why. Lenker's voice carries wise and sentimental sounding lyrics with gliding buoyancy. In "Paul", her voice is reminiscent of a bittersweet lullaby, as she sings to someone named Paul, seemingly a lover from her past.
The melancholy portrayed in “Paul” and many other Big Thief songs carries an importance for many listeners. Even as a basic topic of discussion in art or music, remembrance of various instances of human connection is perhaps one of the most emotional themes possible. There is so much nostalgia it is almost palpable, and it easily rubs off on the listeners.
I think Big Thief is what makes that ordinary memory, just driving with friends, so remarkable for me. “Paul”’s sentiment became attached to that, forcing that same reminiscent feeling onto me. Listening to Big Thief produces this effect on its listeners because it is empathetic music, for me at least, especially through its recent use of the relationship between parent and child as a motif.
Lenker shows this, along with her folksy, midwestern flair, and literary influenced writing in Big Thief’s new album Capacity. While continuing with themes of intimacy and romantic love through songs like “Pretty Things” and “Mary”, Lenker also introduces family love and childhood memories. “Mythological Beauty” seems to explain Lenker’s mother’s story, emphasizing the weight of her appreciation for her mother’s love, but acknowledging her youth and apparent inner conflict.
“There is a child in you who’s trying to raise a child in me.”
Most other songs on Capacity also reference Lenker’s youth or family in some way. For instance, “Coma” repeats the line “You won’t recognize your house” perhaps referring to Lenker’s family moving locations frequently through her childhood.
Whether as a family matter or within an intimate relationship, Lenker writes songs of love. The love is what makes the nostalgia so intense and the memories so familiar. Through these songs, Lenker’s audience can feel that they are exploring many forms of love, and the other emotions it can cause, just as she has. Purposefully or not, Big Thief as a whole demonstrates a life centered around love as a human connection, and consequently produces magically relatable and memorable music.
By Zoe Evans.