Big Thief - U.F.O.F. - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Big Thief - U.F.O.F.

by Mark Moody Rating:10 Release Date:2019-05-03
Big Thief - U.F.O.F.
Big Thief - U.F.O.F.

Given that Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek both had solo albums out last year, it would be fair not to expect another full band effort quite this quickly.  It’s been less than two years since Capacity graced our ears.  Perhaps even more unexpectedly one wouldn’t think the work of art that is revealed on U.F.O.F. to have been crafted in such short order.  Aside from the quality of the content, the sonics are unsurpassed here.  The album finds the band and its poet leader, Lenker, fully coalesced.  As they have done in a live setting, Meek (guitar) and Max Oleartchik (bass) huddle close around James Krivchenia (drums), forming the heart that pumps blood to Lenker as head and soul of the group standing off on her own.

Look no further than the two tracks that appeared on Lenker’s abysskiss last year.  As fine as those songs already were on their own,  both ‘From’ and ‘Terminal Paradise’ are colored up by the rest of the band.  More sympathetically on ‘From’ as Lenker probes the mystery and reality of origin.  While the arc of a life that is explored on ‘Terminal Paradise’ becomes more troubling in the group’s collective hands.  The band gives Lenker room in the verses, but presses her in hard on the choruses as she pleads “let the rest of me go”.  It’s a desperate moment created to replicate not wanting to let go of what is inevitably going to go.

The rural landscapes that populate many of U.F.O.F.’s songs recall the earth tones of Andrew Wyeth’s American landscapes.  An earthiness that Wyeth created through the dry-brush eggy tempera pigments of browns, yellows, oranges.  The martial drumming mixed with Lenker’s pastoral poetry on ‘Cattails’ recalls her Minnesota home.  Krivchenia’s drum work over the course of the album is on par with Pinegrove’s Zack Levine and Mothers’ Matthew Anderegg (these guys should be on trading cards).  On the song, Lenker vocally skips along “where the cattail sways, with the lonesome loon” and reincarnates an ancient relative with wrinkled hands/silver hair sitting in the “middle of the river in a lawn chair”.  While album centerpiece, the simply and quietly strummed ‘Orange’, gives Lenker space for a delicately sung songbird’s warble.  A songbird singing in an orange scented garden, a hunting dog with a frozen dove in its jaws.  Another song of loss mixed with the tangible pull of “limbs twisting” in a bedroom and “little rivers” cried into a forearm.

Elsewhere the quiet, yet expansive sound of ‘Open Desert’ fits the physical ocean between sick room and that of the well.  ‘Century’ holds some of the same back country settings (dogs eyes in the driveway, moths at the window) of ‘Cattails’ and ‘Orange’, but adds bulkier choruses that generate strength with harmonies and Meek’s jazzy flourishes towards the end.  And singing in a lower register for ‘Betsy’, Lenker conveys the uncertainty of having to navigate the dangers and dealings of New York.  A city populated with “street lights, boys, and poison palms”, armed with only an auburn haired guardian to guide her.  Whether these poems are fact or fiction, they have the specificity of something sharply remembered.   

As Big Thief have never been ones to provide easy answers to Lenker’s free-flowing poetry, of course mysteries abound on U.F.O.F.  and draw you in here as well.  The unidentified friend of the title song (without the punctuation) seems perhaps an outlet to escape the political landscape of today.  The backward loops and eddies of the song, from a band never bound by standard time signatures, create an otherworldly air.  Lenker’s desire to be taken away from a “system of truth and lies” where “another map turns blue, mirror on mirror” could relate to the here and now, but it’s not entirely clear.  The closing ‘Magic Dealer’ also holds some unknown ritual.  Beginning as a nearly a cappella chant, Lenker finds the internal melody in single lines like “heaven is stitching across me”.  But as Krivchenia’s drums break in Lenker more darkly pleads “carve, magic dealer, bring me the company I couldn’t buy.”  An unsettling sorcery stirred up by the band and offered out to the listener by Lenker.                        

U.F.O.F. is a work of art, not simply music or songs.  Gaps are left for the listener to fill in or ponder.  Like Wyeth’s paintings, an unsettling air comes not always knowing the whole story, and he had the further power to make you really not want to know.  An empty hook on a farmhouse ceiling, a crippled child somehow in the middle of a field, an impossibly painted sheer curtain blown by some invisible scented source.  The album is challenging, poetic, full of grotesque decay, wonder, and an underlying streak of humanity.  Like the mysterious friend of the title track, whether Big Thief are just now arriving or beginning to take off, U.F.O.F. is the hovering peak reached from the promise of Masterpiece and Capacity.  Not meant for the casual listener, U.F.O.F. is a gallery of twelve perfectly painted vignettes in search of an audience to hold them dear.  Add to this a proffer that there is no better band operating in America today and that’s all you really need to know to get started. 



Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Whoa! One heck of a review. Now, I can’t wait to listen.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I really think that Adriane Lenker is improving as a songwriter as the years progress. She opens up more, and starts giving more of herself to the music. Definitely one of the best bands going right now, and very excited to dive into this on...

I really think that Adriane Lenker is improving as a songwriter as the years progress. She opens up more, and starts giving more of herself to the music. Definitely one of the best bands going right now, and very excited to dive into this on Friday. Great review Mark.

Read More
There are no comments posted here yet
Related Articles