[sic] Magazine

Big Thief – U.F.O.F.

The words of enigmatic Big Thief frontwoman Adrianne Lenker have always been carefully chosen. The Brooklyn-based band’s 2016 debut, Masterpiece, was – for example – a “masterpiece of existence” according to her, one in thrall with the cycles of love and loss, life and inevitable death – the sort of masterpiece in which the hero dies at the end. Whilst the album was undeniably steeped in catharsis, it never felt miserable; the similarly styled U.F.O.F. on the other hand, the four-piece’s third LP in which the F stands for ‘Friend’, perhaps misleadingly, occasionally does. But so too is warming, compelling and, at times, utterly mesmeric. And with emotions as layered as Lenker’s ever-changing vocal, it’s an album that steps up from its very natural home of Saddle Creek to the higher profile 4AD in style.

Recorded deep in rural western Washington and sounding just like it therefore should, U.F.O.F. is true to its folk roots too, spindly fingers plucking out beautiful, outdoorsy melodies that conjure images of wide-open spaces and the feel of wind in your hair. On a first listen, it’s an unobtrusive soundtrack to watching endless country roll past the windows, but Lenker leads this wholesome sound to strange places on repeats spins, the narrative arcs of her intimate story-telling difficult to follow without a lyric sheet, crystalline images periodically appearing from the disorientating blur like signposts in the fog. A creaking eeriness thus pervades the minimal template to create a strain of uneasy, spell-binding freak-folk with dangerously heavy-hearted pacing, the surprisingly classic-sounding, brush-stroke swells in which throb with melancholy.

So much of what makes Big Thief good continues to centre on Lenker’s performance despite the accomplished nature of her largely hushed, subtle backing. Her fragile vocal trembles accordingly when playing a woman in despair. It’s breathy and heavy precisely when it needs to be elsewhere, elfin and squeaky when exploring more ethereal realms inhabited by classy piano. Choral moaning decorates the deeply sad “Terminal Paradise” in turn as she charts both impressive high parts and lower bum notes in the same breath making U.F.O.F. all so much more convincing, honest and magnetic as a result.

And then, right there, in the middle of the opener, “Contact”, she adds a real scream of pain to introduce a chaotic plugged-in part to display her inner turmoil. It’s a raw move that grabs the attention immediately and, transfixed, you won’t be able to look away until the intense “Jenni” fades out much later on, an abrasive curtain of closing guitar and feedback lifting it to another level still. Unquestionably Big Thief’s strongest album to date, U.F.O.F. has the depths to mean many things to many people and yet its overriding simplicity will ensure that it is universally loved.

Best tracks: “Orange” and “Cattails”

~U.F.O.F. is released May 3rd 2019 via 4AD.~