4AD · May 3, 2019
Detailed, isolated and alien in its excellence; the record succeeds on all fronts.
Sometimes listening to an album for a review can feel like a chore. Most music worth coverage is at least passable, but forcing yourself to listen to mediocrity for a few days on repeat can get pretty exhausting. Typically, by the time I’m finished with a piece I have no plans to revisit the album at hand. This is in no way, shape or form a reflection of my experience with Big Thief’s newest album U.F.O.F. Every single time I played the album this past week I’ve found myself excited to jump back in and peel the layers of this nuanced masterpiece. The band’s third album is a landmark achievement that, given their repertoire up to this point, puts them in the conversation for the best working indie band right now. Period.
U.F.O.F., though not a totally alien incarnation of Big Thief, is noticeably different from the band’s previous albums. For example, on their past two records, chief songwriter Adrianne Lenker has penned some of the most descriptively personal and heart-wrenching lyrics of the decade. This time around, the songs are more abstract and open to interpretation. Most of the tracks are presented as vignettes of characters. Lenker calls out to ghosts like Jodi, Caroline, and Jenni to comment on sorrow, love and feeling like an outsider. Through this examination of people and relationships, themes of humanity and alienation permeate the record. The record is not only a shift in lyrical style, but musical direction.
Big Thief’s first two records, Capacity and Masterpiece, feature standard indie-rock instrumentation like crunchy guitar, bass and drums. When it came time to record U.F.O.F, the group relocated to a 10 acre barn-turned-studio in rural Washington. This gave the group a much needed opportunity to experiment and diversify their sound. Moreover, that sense of detaching from the commotion of urbanity can be felt through the music’s delicate and lush, folksy approach. Take a song like “Cattails”, which features warm acoustic guitars reminiscent of the country. Or perhaps “Century,” with its brushed drums and hushed vocals. Although the songs sound simple on the surface, don’t be fooled. The band, which is made up of Berklee alum’s, have filled U.F.O.F with deceptively complex grooves, sonic experiments, and songwriting wonders.
Ultimately, U.F.O.F. firmly cements Big Thief in the canon of legendary indie rock. The album ever-so calmly demands listener’s attention and reflection. Detailed, isolated and alien in its excellence; the record succeeds on all fronts. It’s an easy contender for best of the year, and a work that we’ll be listening to and re-examining for years down the line.