Big Thief are stopping for nothing and no-one. ‘UFOF’ is their third album in as many years and it represents a band whose collective synergy and chemistry has hit pure perfection. ‘UFOF’ is atmospheric, modern folk that can warm the heart and heal the downhearted.
‘Title track ‘UFOF’ is a beautiful example of Lenker’s floaty vocals lifting the melody from the ground up.’
Record opener ‘Contact’ sets a tone with lead vocalist Adrianne Lenker’s trademark airy and whispery vocals backdropped against a slow burning doomsday melody. A contradiction of styles that is surprisingly cohesive. The track opens out and transcends into a thunder clap of crunching guitars and spontaneous screeching wails from Lenker. Title track ‘UFOF’ is a beautiful example of Lenker’s floaty vocals lifting the melody from the ground up. You get the sense very early on that the vocals shape the record not only through its emotive lyrics, but in most part through its gorgeous contrasts in pace, pitch, range and timing. Lenker sings of waving goodbye to her newly found UFO friend, who she shares an intimate moment with. “I don’t need any other friends, the best kiss I ever had is the flickering of the water so clear and bright”. Lenker’s storytelling is soaked in beautiful imagery. She puts you across that lake, watching that kiss through the shimmer and mist of the water.
‘Cattails’ follows with twangy folk riffs and a steady build in tempo as we hear more emotive storytelling from Lenker. Here she addresses one of many personas through the album, Caroline. “To where the cattail sways with the lonesome loon. You’ll be riding that train in late June with the windows by your side.” The plucky guitar takes centre stage in the latter half, doubling down on one of the more traditional sounding folk melodies on the record.
‘‘From’ features a stunning combination of rolling drums, soothing guitar and piercing, vulnerable vocals that rise to the surface the more in pain Lenker sounds.’
‘From’ features a stunning combination of rolling drums, soothing guitar and piercing, vulnerable vocals that rise to the surface the more in pain Lenker sounds. Originally featured on Lenker’s solo album last year, it fits in here beautifully, with Lenker sounding hurt and even broken in her delivery. “No one can be my man, be my man. No one can be my woman, be my woman.”
‘Orange’ features Lenker’s wavering vocals at the forefront once again. She sings painfully, referencing her lovers “Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies in her eyes”. Bleak pictures are painted with “Crying little rivers in her forearm. Fragile is that I mourn her death.” ‘Strange’ sees a shift in tempo, with an more urgent beat of stomping, swirling bass and eventually euphoric synths and vocal effects. Lenker continues to reference wildlife through her storytelling, with “The silkworms rage”, “Billions of worms were boiled” and “See the Luna moth cry”.
‘The infectious, subtle chorus on ‘Jenni’ is eventually met with a release of clean, ripping guitars and hard hitting drums in what comes across as a outpour of emotion from the band in response to the stories that proceed it.’
‘Betsy’ show-crafts the genius of Lenker’s vocal delivery and timing. The tune meanders to the mercy of the floating vocals with Lenker describing a drive into New York City, with its “Rings of crystal light” and “Warm suburban air”. The infectious, subtle chorus on ‘Jenni’ is eventually met with a release of clean, ripping guitars and hard hitting drums in what comes across as a outpour of emotion from the band in response to the stories that proceed it.
‘Big Thief have given us a musical treasure.’
Lenker’s unique vocal pitch matched with the stunningly crafted yet subdued backdrops are sublime. Likewise, her repetitive use of themes of nature, love and despair through her imagery is the knot that ties everything together with a stunning precision and unity. Big Thief’s excellence is through their ability to resist the urge to go big. Rather they breathe in, fall inwards on themselves and allow themselves to create subtle moments of beauty and grace. Big Thief have given us a musical treasure.
Words: Curt Downs