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We’re the Fish and They’re Our Gills

September 13 marked the latest studio release for Big Thief, accompanied by a period of emotional devastation for fans. From the opening notes of “Vampire Empire,” one of their two new singles, listeners are subconsciously turning down the volume, unprepared for its coarse anger and vulnerability. For months, Big Thief teased the track, playing it on tour last fall and on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in March. Lead vocalist Adrianne Lenker sings about the consuming energy required to maintain a toxic relationship and the raw desperation of loving someone who is breaking you apart. In the live version, the processes of erasing your identity and becoming dependent on your partner were captured in the line, “I’m the fish and she’s my gills.” This lyric, which has come to be loved by fans, is missing from the slightly-more-polished studio version, but the impact of the song remains. The listener receives a misdirected, furious confrontation that the protagonist cannot bring to the person they love––their vampire––and the powerlessness of their situation is agonizing.

Photo Credit: Big Thief

The pain of the A-side contrasts starkly with the B-side's message of the beauty and reassurance found in reciprocal love. In “Born for Loving You,” Big Thief traces the evolution of a relationship that feels predetermined, harkening back to the formation of stars and extinction of dinosaurs. In lyrics like “Sometimes we both disappear/ Into that shadow box of fear,” the band explores life’s dark, existential moments; the strength of the couple’s love, however, makes everything else seem meaningless. The ability for two vastly different songs to complement and shed light on each other is a testament to the band’s lyrical ability, although listening to the songs consecutively might give you a little bit of whiplash. But listen and judge it for yourself, because I think I was born for loving them.


Fiona Naughton is a Sophomore in the SFS studying Culture & Politics and minoring in English.


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