Big Thief - U.F.O.F. (Album Review)

Helen Payne 14 May 2019

The big city can make you crazy, and everyone needs a bit of escapism now and then. For the four members of Brooklyn-based Big Thief, the greenery of rural Washington state came calling in time to play a huge role in the creation of ‘U.F.O.F’ (the final F standing for Friend), their third album. Here they look past grey skyscrapers, endless franchises and big lights in the city towards an idyllic image of the countryside.

Once they get there, though, it’s not enough. Seeing beyond the nature before them, Adrianne Lenker and her bandmates set their sights into space—to aliens, the solar system, and unknown worlds, to things beyond our comprehension and trust—in an attempt to make friends with the unknown.src=

Recorded at Bear Creek Studio outside of Seattle, with Dom Monks and Andrew Sarlo, it’s obvious the fresh air has done Big Thief the world of good.

With the time and space to grow at their own pace,  ‘U.F.O.F’ is a calmer, more refined version of their former selves. It’s an intricate study of delicate folk that purposefully evokes tension and a sense of trepidation while simultaneously adopting the role of a comforting hug with its warm, sun-dappled palette.

Contact is an intense place to start. Trundling at a walking pace, it alternates between major and minor guitar phrases, and puts the listener on edge. Lenker’s vocals, meanwhile, take on that familiar ethereal, floating quality as they build in anticipation of something big happening. When it does, a bloodcurdling scream turns the whole pastoral scene into a nightmare, accompanied by a heavily distorted riff for extra colour in the darkness.

The band keep up this level of tension throughout the record. On the title track, the layers of arpeggiated guitar notes are cold, but thaw out by the time its gets to the chorus. Similarly, Century uses awkward, jangly diminished chords in the verse before reaching an Americana-tinged singalong.

Excluding those shrieks, Lenker’s voice is always calm, bringing everything back into focus like waking up after a bad dream. Strangely comforting, her style is a lullaby whisper, and the intimacy with which she performs her mysterious, UFO filled narratives—saying goodbye to her friend on the title track, considering whether any of it is real with the lyrics “There will soon be proof that there is no alien, just a system of truth and lies”, and getting called on board the alien vessel on Jenni—makes the listener feel they are the only person, or even human, in the room.

‘U.F.O.F’ is a truly endearing record, and over time the more delicious it is to devour. It is the sound of lonesome afternoons in late June, sat on the porch after escaping the city. With Lenker singing of silkworms, moths and fruit bats on Strange, and of great lakes and rivers on Cattails, it’s easy to visualise the countryside, while an underlying wave of unease at the great unknown beyond induces the feeling that there’s something out there bigger than all of us.

Big Thief Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat May 18 2019 - LEEDS Brudenell Social Club
Sun May 19 2019 - GLASGOW SWG3
Tue May 21 2019 - DUBLIN Vicar Street
Wed May 22 2019 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz
Thu May 23 2019 - LONDON Roundhouse
Fri May 24 2019 - BRISTOL SWX
Sun May 26 2019 - CAMBRIDGE Cambridge Junction

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