Like so much else, the momentum built up by Big Thief’s two excellent 2019 albums was halted by the pandemic. They began work on their fifth album almost two years ago, but – with lockdowns and three of the band releasing solo material (with mixed results) – it’s been a lengthy gestation. In part, though, that was because they chose to record its 20 songs in four sessions, each in a very different location (upstate New York; Topanga Canyon, California; the Colorado Rockies; Tucson, Arizona), each with a different engineer. The result is their most varied and expansive record to date.
With the running order hopping between the four sessions, there’s the feel of a carefully curated mixtape to proceedings, stark balladry rubbing shoulders with raucous hoedowns (from the Tucson sessions, thanks to the addition of Mat Davidson‘s fiddle) and bucolic country rock. As with all the best records, there are fresh highlights with every listen: the intimate Change, as affecting as Orange from their third album UFOF; the infectious Spud Infinity transcends the awfulness of its title to cut its metaphysical lyrics with references to garlic bread and potato knish; the loose, distorted groove of Little Things; Love Love Love’s meandering guitar parts that could have come from a Crazy Horse record – the list goes on and on. Wonderful.