Big Thief – U.F.O.F.

Big Thief lead us gently from the beaten path and into the unknown with U.F.O.F., a hypnotic third offering that showcases their courage and chemistry

Album Review by Fraser MacIntyre | 02 May 2019
  • Big Thief – U.F.O.F.
Album title: U.F.O.F.
Artist: Big Thief
Label: 4AD
Release date: 3 May

George Saunders once wrote that great art "is really just great personhood in compressed form". Time spent in the company of Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek, via their recent solo releases, can attest to this. abysskiss and Buck Meek are both strikingly intimate and minimally produced. Each songwriter’s unique sense of the chaos or serenity they observe (and their place within it) shines through both subtly and resplendently. As Lenker and Meek allow themselves to be more vulnerable and curious in their creative output, it can offer a transformative experience to the listener, just as a face-to-face encounter with any person with a unique perspective or disposition can.

Lenker and Meek are part of a four-piece band. This is nothing new. We are all well accustomed to a guitar player, bass player, singer and drummer joining forces. What is remarkable about Big Thief is the way they coalesce. They don’t pan for gold in clashes of ego, or keep their distance from one another on the road to maintain stability. They make a point of trying to understand each other, and four incredibly distinctive personas become, at times, on record and in performance, something else: Big Thief. The intimacy between Lenker, Meek, Max Oleartchik and James Krivchenia is unmistakable in photographs. Often more reserved when captured alone, together they are frequently bundled like affectionate siblings. 

As their lives become more and more intertwined, this naturally informs the music they make, and the four consider U.F.O.F. (the second F stands for friend) their "first record as a fully realized band." Second single Cattails was written mere hours before being recorded in a single take. Elsewhere, the four experiment like never before. Lenker’s hushed vocal is incredibly prominent in the mix during Betsy, as if she's whispering in the ear of the listener while a band performs exquisitely in the distance. Meek’s charming, sky-scraping leads are mostly replaced with intricate, ambient meditations, in keeping with the dreamlike nature of the record.

The absence of the 'dance wildly around your bedroom' country-rock bliss their audience have come to adore is a little jarring at first, but you know where Shark Smile and Real Love are if you need them. U.F.O.F. is lot more restless and abstract; Krivchenia’s hypnotic drumming consistently sounding as though it's on the verge of either collapsing into ruin or kicking things up a gear.

Lenker says all her songs are about "making friends with the unknown [...] If the nature of life is change and impermanence, I’d rather be uncomfortably awake in that truth than lost in denial." This is beautifully articulated in Magic Dealer as she sings 'Would it hurt would it hurt? / To be nearer? / Heaven is stitching across me / My chest is the crossing'. It takes courage to remain open, and Big Thief lead us gently from the beaten path and into the wilderness with U.F.O.F. There are lessons to be learned underwater, in the cold and among the shadows.

Listen to: Terminal Paradise, Contact, Orange