I love Big Thief. I have spent a lot of time evangelising the words of Adrianne Lenker and her bandmates (see Episode 10 of the Picky Bastards Podcast). Upon listening to both of Big Thief’s previous albums I felt instantly branded by some of the songs. ‘Masterpiece’, ‘Shark Smile’, and ‘Mythological Beauty’ pushed themselves straight into my personal canon of great music. Upon my first listen to U.F.O.F. I didn’t get that feeling. I didn’t feel indelibly marked by anything. I was pretty disappointed. Maybe it’s an unfair standard, but it is a bar that Big Thief set themselves.
U.F.O.F. marks a subtle shift in Big Thief as they move towards the folkier end of their sound spectrum. It is a more intimate and quiet album. Throughout there are no real breakout moments. Instead it is steady with the continual whisper-like delivery of Adrianne Lenker accompanied by a sweeping and warm musical backing. Though the music is still personal, it becomes expansive in a new way. A kind of soaring intimacy.
Unlike the prior albums U.F.OF. did not command my attention nor did it feel like something that I could be engaged with superficially. Instead, it is ambiguous. Though Lenker’s lyrics generate similar feelings of being their confidant, the songs feel more ethereal compared with the visceral nature of the Big Thief’s prior work. The atmospheric feel of the album has really grown on me with every listen, but I still feel like it is missing human vibrancy.
Despite my reservations there are some great tracks, the stand outs being two of the singles: ‘Cattails’ and the title track ‘U.F.O.F.’ Cattails forgoes some of the more supernatural themes of the album and instead is a vivid travel diary of a trip out to the countryside. A snapshot of returning home to the people and places that mean the most. This is perfectly accompanied by the twangy finger picking guitar, to really drive home the Americana nostalgia and road trip vibes. It makes me want to get in a car and escape the city.
‘U.F.O.F’ deals with more transient relationships. The extra F stands for friend and Lenker uses this paranormal tale to tell of a visitor to her life that comes, but then leaves. Lenker delivers the lines urgently and desperately. I can feel the impact of transience and fleeting relationships.
Included in this album are also two songs from Lenker’s solo album, which came out half a year ago. Big Thief have reworked them to give them more vitality. But revisiting these songs made me realise that this album gives me the same sort of feelings as Lenker’s solo work. Without those truly striking moments to build out from, Big Thief and Adrianne Lenker deliver something that I like. Unfortunately it is just not something that I love.
Words by Matt Paul.