Indie Rockers Big Thief At Home With Their Rootlessness

On "Masterpiece," Big Thief's debut album, lovers fall asleep in warehouses. The road is never far, a handy means of escape:

"You knew your daddy til you were thirteen," Adrianne Lenker sings on "Vegas," across irregular phrase-lengths, "And then he took his leave for the likes of the land / And the far off salty ocean." On "Randy," the singer never leaves home, lost in an inner realm, haunted by voices:

Randy, they say I've gone insane

So could you take me dancing in the pouring rain?

You don't know me but you know my name

Will you say it till the light is gone?

Big Thief's music is rooted in rootlessness. It passes, at times, for literate indie Texas rock (maybe the kind Lucinda Williams fans would enjoy). But under those earthy melodies, Lenker's chord progressions are adventurous; there's a lot of information in there, churning just under the surface. (Listen, for example, to the wandering, recitative-like verses of "Paul," and also its steadying, two-chord chorus.)

"I've learned to think of everywhere I am as home," says Lenker, "for the sake of sanity, so that I don't constantly feel like I'm leaving where I need to be, or returning to where I should be. Wherever we are, I make that into a temporary home."

Big Thief is a Brooklyn, N.Y., band. Lenker, who is from Minnesota, moved there five years ago. Everyone in Big Thief is from somewhere else: guitarist Buck Meek comes from Texas, bassist Max Oleartchik hails from Tel Aviv, and drummer James Krivchenia moved from Chicago.

"The music formed in New York," Lenker says. "We've been nurturing it here in various practice spaces. New York is always where we return to."

Lenker released a solo album, "Hours Were the Birds," at the beginning of 2014. Lenker and Meek put out two short duo albums, "a-sides" and "b-sides," later that spring. Big Thief toured as a band in 2015 with Here We Go Magic, and has been on the road for much of 2016.

As far as gelling as a live band, "I feel like we're still coming into that feeling," Lenker says. "Ever since we started playing together, it felt like a band. The feeling just intensifies."

Big Thief performs at the Ballroom at the Outer Space in Hamden on Jan. 5 at 8:30 p.m., with Twain and Zanders opening.

Lenker sings with worry and expectation, occasionally like a desperate traveler, thumbing a ride in heavy weather, unsure when it will pass. "Little Arrow," the opening track of "Masterpiece," sounds like it was recorded in the cab of an 18-wheeler. "There's only so much letting go you can ask someone to do," Lenker sings on "Masterpiece," the title track, as though trying to convince herself. (Along with "Humans" and "Parallels," "Masterpiece" is one of three bigger rock songs on the album.)

Close listening reveals a few surprising, well-placed production touches: slapback echo and sudden groove-swerves of "Animals"; angelic, hard-panned harmony vocals in "Lorraine"; multitracked vocals and rubato on "Velvet Ring"; swirling atmospherics in the opening of "Randy," suggesting the presence of otherworldy voices in the fragile singer's head.

Love and sex are surprising, unknown territories; "Yeah we hopped inside my car / And I drove in circles 'round the freight train yard," Lenker sings on "Paul," "And he turned the headlights off / Then he pulled the bottle out / Then he showed me what was love." Meek, Oleartchik and Krivchenia are experts at crafting grooves, contrapuntal lines, dynamic dips and boosts that complement Lenker's songwriting.

"Masterpiece," recorded in two weeks at a studio in Essex, Vermont, was released by Saddle Creek in May 2016. A second Big Thief album is already on the way.

"We've done some work on it," Lenker says. "It's not done by any means. We're still doing some of the writing."

BIG THIEF performs at the Ballroom at the Outer Space in Hamden on Jan. 5 at 8:30 p.m., with Twain and Zanders opening. Tickets are $13 to $15. manicproductions.org.

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