Brooklyn’s Big Thief houses heartbreak and self-loathing in cozy, familiar folk rock | Music Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Brooklyn’s Big Thief houses heartbreak and self-loathing in cozy, familiar folk rock

“Real love makes your lungs black / Real love is a heart attack”

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Big Thief is often referred to as a Brooklyn-based band, but its songs are written for someplace far away — the side of a freeway or an empty train yard — where you can pull the car over, crack a bottle and just pause with the person who makes your heart skip. Singer Adrianne Lenker hails from Minnesota, and on Big Thief’s almost-aptly titled debut, Masterpiece, she sets these vivid, boozy stories in a place where things go slow.

Slow enough to reflect on whether or not whiskey breath, our ability to love, and the brunt of our parents’ mistakes are all inherited traits. They’re seemingly told through the eyes of multiple narrators, who paddle against the passing of time. On the glimmering “Paul,” Lenker hardly distinguishes between the beginning and end of a relationship, blurring euphoric memories with the realization that “there was no one who could kiss away my shit.” An altruistic self-loathing runs through Masterpiece, with characters who find their worst habits beyond repair, and would let someone they love walk away, rather than speed toward certain heartbreak. And on one of the record’s most quotable couplets, Lenker deduces that true passion must coexist with pain: “Real love makes your lungs black / Real love is a heart attack.”

If this all sounds like enough to buckle under (it should), then it’s time to acknowledge how these songs are packaged. Big Thief makes cozy, familiar folk rock that envelops more often than it punches. Lenker’s voice and sharp detail-work stand front and center, but her musical partner Buck Meek’s unfussy guitar lines glide underneath and give these songs an almost spectral backbone. Masterpiece provides some thorny perspective, but with the warmth of a crackling fireplace. What better way to ring in the coldest months of the year?


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