Masterpiece (studio album) by Big Thief
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Big Thief bestography
The best album by Big Thief is Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You which is ranked number 822 in the list of all-time albums with a total rank score of 2,198.
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Masterpiece track list
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This album is rated in the top 3% of all albums on BestEverAlbums.com. This album has a Bayesian average rating of 78.1/100, a mean average of 77.7/100, and a trimmed mean (excluding outliers) of 78.7/100. The standard deviation for this album is 12.0.
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Where do I even start with this album? It represents such a massive shift in the sound of Lenker, the beginning of the band that would come to be her most well-known musical outlet, it indicates a distinct leveling-up in the power of her songwriting, and this is the first time I have heard that iconic (for me in my head canon) Adrianne Lenker voice. This is just a badass statement of a debut. And while it was cute and a bit funny and audacious to name their debut Masterpiece, it nearly lives up to the title.
After the cold open of sorts of the opning track “Little Arrow” we are thrust into the exhilarating and resounding triumph of a song called “Masterpiece”. Everything about this track is killer. The vocals sound like some fiery modern Lucinda Williams, the stomp of the loud drums and guitars is all that rock should be, and that fucking chorus! The lyrics and the way they morph in meeting and the way they so beautifully wrap around the melody and the breathy vocal delivery of this new Lenker we are being introduced to… etc… its awesome, every second of it is awesome from the opening chords, to the dirty feedback solo, to its resounding end. This song is such a moment, it is when you have to stop and take notice of these new young guns and shut up and listen. This is also the best song Lenker has written up to this point.
The fact that the album consistently flows from track to track, some purely indie rock bliss with noisy rock riffs to soft and folky ruminative tracks to beautiful indie pop numbers that reminds me of Beach House (without all the layers of dream pop) or Broken Social Scene, and does it with almost no hiccups or stumbles is brilliant.
Of course there are some small gripes I have. Starting with small things that always slightly annoy me, such as the opening one note explosion of the solo of “Real Love” which is just toooo much and doesn’t work (before getting back on track with a great remainder of solo), to the overly long and annoying little baby saying car and truck over and over at the end of “Interstate”. The only more macro critique is hardly a critique for me anyway (because I don’t value extreme originality) is that this great band hadn’t yet found that utterly unique Big Thief sound yet and much of the songs here, including the best ones done excellently, are quite familiar sounding. By the time they get to 2019’s 2 LPs they had carved out a truly unique sound. But I am not sure those albums are BETTER than this one (we shall see soon enough), its just that they are more unorthodox.
The star of the show her is the ragged, stalwart beauty of Adrianne Lenker’s songwriting, singing and general persona. How she managed to switch gears so fully from her Folk confessional singer/songwriter aesthetic to the fiery, rocker who forces you to hand on to every word in the middle of some deriously stomping rock tunes, baffles me. She is a chameleon and absurdly talented. The lyrics all over this thing are consistently biting, minimalisticly heartbreaking and I feel like she really made her best written album with this one. I suppose having 3 others to play with helped the songwriting process or perhaps its just that this format allowed her to unveil this whole other side of her? I don’t know. Trying to explain the indescribable relatability and fragility and strength and beauty of the singing and songwriting here is like trying to catch gossamer in your hand. This shit is elusive and powerful.
The highlights are numerous, but the TOTAL show stoppers are brilliantly placed at the beginning (“Masterpiece”), middle (“Paul”) and end (“Parallels”)… with each standout track having other great songs of a variously constituted sound and style surrounding it. This album has a flow and a consistency that I love and it just seems (so far) endlessly relistenable.
The closer starts out good, but man when I say the build up to the chorus and the chorus itself is transcendent indie rock glory just know I mean it. Also when I mentioned Broken Social Scene earlier, that could possibly apply to more than just “Paul” but I am mostly talking about that tune. It sounds like something off BSS’s 2002 album You Forgot It In People.
As far as low points, well while I kind of get what they were going with that opening track “Little Arrow” as a sort of short, super low key and fragile introduction, I still think it’s the least special and quality sounding song here. Other than that, every song here bristles with a level of energy and passion and earthy power that makes every song fascinating and uplifting and thought-provoking and just awesome.
So far, Lenker’s discog is so fucking cool. She can rock and folk with the best of ‘em. Also this album makes me excited for all the music yet to come on this project, because I think with this 2016 album she really had found her voice as a vocalist and songwriter. This is the beginning of a new era methinks. Also the relationship between Buck Meek and Adrianne Lenker and the resultant band seems to be getting more and more enmeshed. I think the whole band kicks ass here, but in particular one thing I never mentioned is the subtle harmonies between Meek and Lenker here is just as great, if more subtle, as on their A-Sides EP. And they seem to be one of those rare musical partnerships that just seem made for each other. Like Gram and Emmylou, or Guru and Premier, or other great ones. These 2 have some great music yet to come (as well as a divorce) I can already tell.
This gets a high rating, because I like it. I sometimes feel like I give too many glowing ratings. But then again the reason I pick these artists to listen to and explore is because I already KNOW I like their sound and this project just gives me a chance to really listen and listen a lot and let my thoughts blossom. With that in mind the rating for this near-masterpiece is …. 8.7/10
What an absolutely phenomenal debut album, no skips to be found here- every song is phenomenal. This is depressingly underrated on this site. 9/10
Best songs: Paul, Masterpiece, Vegas, Animals, Parallels
One of the best debuts in the 2010's
No flash in the pan here , this is the real deal from a group destined to be a legacy act
Masterpiece is what it claims
At first I thought, well, this is pretty ok. But second half of the album blew my mind, it is outstandingly beautiful. 8/10.
Best Tracks: Real Love, Paul, Masterpiece
Humans and Animals are good catchy songs that offer an interesting contrast to the rest of the album that is a bit too drab and static.
Favorite tracks: Humans, Animals
Less favorite trakcs: Little Arrow, Velvet Ring
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