Big Thief arrived last year with their debut album, Masterpiece. On the surface this title seems like an egotistical statement from the young Brooklyn band, but upon listening to Masterpiece it is instantly clear that ego is far from their driving force. Over the course of that album’s 12 tracks singer Adrianne Lenker revealed herself to be one of the most poetically honest and pointed lyricists currently working, touching delicately but directly on many topics relating to the human condition by relaying real-life interpersonal dramas in open and sympathetic ways. The Masterpiece wasn’t the album, but it seemed to be more that she was saying that it is life itself – for all of our flaws, mistakes, misjudgements and shortcomings, we humans are still all masterpieces.

Capacity quickly follows up Masterpiece and from the very beginning Lenker’s vocals and lyrics are once more the jewel in the crown of Big Thief’s music. Again the album focuses around what it means to be a human, particularly a woman, teased out through accurately yet succinctly drawn stories in her lyrics, buoyed by a subtle but flourishing musicianship in the band. Capacity takes us through several different emotions, but none of them fails to dig a deep well into the human soul and draw out something valuable from beneath.

The tenderness and earnestness is there from the very beginning of ‘Pretty Things’, an acoustically picked, close-mic’d introduction to this intimate new album: “Matthew, please do not regret/ with your silk in my hand/ and your heart in my sweat/ as you’re lighting the end of my last cigarette/ I will warm you.” We don’t know Matthew, but immediately we’re taken into this delicately drawn scene, fully aware of the closeness between the two figures, and the sensitivity at play is all there in Lenker’s delivery. ‘Pretty Things’ also introduces us to one of the main themes of Capacity; the need for physical love, and what it means to grow into womanhood. Lenker is unflinching in addressing this topic throughout the album, on this opening track singing “there is a meeting in my thighs/ where in thunder and lightning, men are baptized,” and later admitting “there’s a woman inside of me… and she don’t always do pretty things.”

There are so many moments on Capacity where the Lenker’s humanity, or those of the people in her stories, is so present and tangible that it’s breathtaking. Lead single for the album ‘Mythological Beauty’ is a perfect example of this; an ode to her mother delivered as a lightly blurry indie stomper, with a fuzziness on the edges like a warm memory. Lenker reveals the story of her mother giving birth to a child at the age of 17 (“seventeen you took his come/ and gave birth to your first life”) and giving it up for adoption. “I have an older brother I don’t know/ he could be anywhere,” Lenker sings, connecting the story to herself, but ‘Mythological Beauty’ is all about her mother, and her admiration for her and what she’s achieved in her life – even if she arguably made some mistakes along the way.

On ‘Watering’, it’s perhaps this acceptance of all human shortcomings that gets her into trouble. The dark and dusky rock created by Big Thief provides a perfect backdrop to a story where a sexual encounter turns violent: “he cut off my oxygen and my eyes were watering/ as he tore into my skin like a lion.” Despite the blood and screams depicted, the song’s ultimate message is that of desire, as Lenker alluringly sings “I live to watch you undress… come to me.” Not all of her sexually explicit songs are so dark or scary; ‘Black Diamonds’ is a perfect closing track, summing up a person’s inherent innocence or shyness. “Should I let you make a woman of me?” she asks flirtatiously, “should I let you take the mystery from me?” As the band spins gold through restrained but technically masterful musicianship, we feel the skipping of her excited heart, and when she ultimately reveals “I could wake up in a cold sweat on your ceiling/ terrified of what your love’s revealing,” we know exactly how her fraught emotions could make her feel that way.

Just as on Masterpiece there are a couple of tracks on Capacity named specifically for people; friendships or loved ones lost to the sands of time in this case – but in hearing Lenker sing about them it seems that the depth of feeling that she had for these people has not dried up one bit. On ‘Haley’ she sings about an old friend to whom she used to write letters, and wonders what she might say today. She is always ready to welcome them back: “anywhere that you are going/ if you ever wanna come back you know my arms are always open.” Then ‘Mary’ unfolds as one of the most astounding bits of folk rock songwriting I’ve heard for a while. The band holds back, only adding subtle shades of organ and piano to Lenker’s vocal, as she takes us right into her childhood where we can feel the “somber country silence” and imagine “the clothes pins on the floor/ and my heart playing hide and seek.” The lyrics for the rest of the song deserve to be quoted in full, and would be too extensive to write here, but needless to say we can feel Lenker in standing out in the vast country fields imagining her lost friend as she ultimately sings “I know that someday I’ll see you/ though now you’re out of sight/ and you’ll kiss me like you used to/ in the January night.”

Overall Capacity is an album brimming over with emotion and love, giving us a sharp and unforgettable insight into this person’s acute view of the human condition. It would be remiss of me not to mention the title track, which is a perfect summation of all of the album’s virtues. ‘Capacity’ is a waltzy dustbowl shoegaze pearl, where the imagery is picture perfect (“I am a beautiful bird, fluttered and floating/ swollen and hollowed for heaven”) and even in moments of dismay the love of life and beauty is overwhelming; when she finds the object of her affection outside the party kissing someone else, she is nevertheless filled with love, “I wrapped my arms around her/ she was a beautiful figure/ there are no enemies.” It might be a little saccharine to suggest that we could all learn something from this, but we can at least all understand that feeling of being completely drowned in feeling for someone else, no matter if they’re someone you’ve just met or someone you knew long ago. Lenker calcifies this constant learning experience in the song’s chorus: “lost in your captivity/ learning capacity/ for make believing everything/ is really hanging on.”