This Summer I Have Listened To Big Thief’s “Masterpiece” No Less Than 300 Times
BY JOEY SWEENEY
This summer, there is one song that I have listened to more than any other, and it’s this one, “Masterpiece” by Big Thief. I could not give over the exact reason — I believe this is one of those songs that hits one’s own emotional register with a knockout punch of oblique spiritual truth that feels like, and thus is, a kind of release. But I can, at least, talk about what’s going on in “Masterpiece,” and why Big Thief is my favorite new band in a very long time.
“Masterpiece” rips open with a guitar chord straight out of every FM rock radio dream you’ve ever had, peeling out a gravelly cloud of roadside dirt and dust and then does an almost counter-intuitive thing: It gets really, really personal. The lyric picks up almost mid-conversation and drops you down in something out of one of those Dirty Realism stories from the 1980s. You’re in a diner with your dearest friend where confidences are being exchanged with desperate finality, even if it is the desperate finality of nothing changing.
"You whisper to a restless ear, 'can you get me out of here?
This place smells like piss and beer, can you get me out?'
You were asking me, how to get you free
I only know the recipe to roam”
Embedded in here is the thing that drew you to glam, that said fuck yeah to riot grrl, that got you all-in on Lucinda: A fierceness that punches its way out of a house of fragile cards. Live, Big Thief does the same exact thing as the songs on the Masterpiece album do — and they all do some version of this — with frontwoman Adrianne Lenker at the helm while guitarist Buck Helm does some of the most give-no-fucks Richard Thompson scraping you’ve ever heard. (Full disclosure: I opened for these guys about six months ago, and they blew me off the stage and into reverent fandom immediately.)
"Old friends, old mothers, dogs and brothers,” goes the valedictory lyric in “Masterpiece,” and all of that is conjured in as real a way as any Springsteen song. But there’s no romance of the working class here, no nostalgia or teary eyes. Instead, there’s a toughness that you’re gonna need in these strange days of fear and maligned hope. Maybe that’s why I can’t stop listening to it. Maybe everybody could use a little bit of that right now.