Two hands is the second album from Big Thief this year, following the sublime U.F.O.F. back in May. Despite such a brief interval between both albums, these “twins” reside in polar geographies; the former fixating on voyeuristic distance and disconnection, while the latter roots itself in a close and uncomplicated familial structure. There’s a desire for domesticity in Two Hands, which manifests in multiple ways, but is accentuated in the way the album was recorded almost entirely live, save a few overdubs. Bringing this raw, marked sound together with multi-faceted lyrics to explore internal uncertainties and societal grievances, Big Thief harness intimate moments of blood and broken-bones, projecting them into broader questions.
‘Rock and Sing’ eases us into these intangible mysteries of home, pulling us indoors to sit amongst them. The timid guitar strings echo the quiet drum kicks; “Confuse my home for a refuge” Adrianne Lenker sings softly, reaching out for interaction after displacing comfort for complacency and closing off those who came near. This urge for revitalisation becomes more apparent as she quietly asks, “hand me that cable, plug into anything”, desperate not only for reconnection, but also for a fundamental change of character – “I don’t want to lock my door anymore”.
This appears again on ‘Forgotten Eyes’, though from another perspective. The instruments rise higher and the tempo picks up as the tone shifts from a meandering guitar pluck of desire to one of weary acceptance. Reflecting on everything we lose, either by choice or some other force, Lenker collects the remains of these missed bodies, demonstrating the cumulative ache they form over time, questioning whether we can ever truly forget, or if we must settle for reconciliation – “It is no less a bruise on the collective arm keeping us high and gone”. Searching for an answer, we lift further again into the title track, with Lenker’s vocals at their most vulnerable as they soar against the sunny percussion. Describing a bittersweet separation, she lays out the tumultuous back and forth of the relationship, concluding that it ultimately must end as she realises that whatever answer they are looking for won’t be found within each other. “And the more that we try to figure through answers, to reveal ourselves, to deny” she sings ethereally against the reinforcing bassline, acknowledging that they have been going in circles, connected to each other by an ever-flipping coin of violent fear and incomplete love.
Violence permeates through Two Hands, seeping into the crevices between each track and pushing us further into mystery. Through a familial sharing of sounds the band are gathered closely, centred around us, bodies for warmth and comfort, yet it is this collectiveness within an intimidating void that makes us lash out, to feel so intensely as to burst. ‘Not’ sees this violence rise in a gritty crescendo, Lenker’s cracking vocals giving way to a screeching guitar run of collective fists and teeth marks, digging for any semblance of gratification. Channelling this inwards, ‘Shoulders’ takes this restlessness for closure and uses it to magnify our nature, observing cracks and unstable structures within yourself that you so desperately wish to change. “The blood of the man who killed my mother with his hands is in my veins” Lenker cries out in vain, her voice returning to a quiver after the sudden jarring outburst. Amalgamating this with the external, ‘The Toy’ furtively ponders the duality of life. “In the sphere, that’s where we all die. In the eyes, that’s where I’m living” she resounds, posing an existence physically and psychologically separated due to a world of political unrest that cannot bear to be lived in – “Children burn, faceless paper”.
Settling in as their second release this year, Two Hands brings about a beautifully crafted yet violent search for something that seems unattainable. Intertwining a familial closeness of warm guitars, tender drums and unguarded vocals, Big Thief force a perspective of one individual searching for something in the decay of terror and internalised guilt. Who matters in a world that’s dying? What matters? Against these questions and more Lenker beats on, trying again and again to find that which she seeks so desperately. She will keep searching, digging in the desert sand for a cool spring, for that is all she can do with two hands. Mitchell Goudie