Release Date: May 3, 2019
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
There is extra-terrestrial life in the universe; mankind is connected by a universal unconsciousness; all life on the planet is interwoven in a supernatural bond. Whether these things appear more towards the fact or fiction end of the spectrum will be different for each person, but for Big Thief they are treated as truth. These are ideas that have been discussed and accepted between the four members of the band, who have now used them as guiding principles and inspiration for their magical and fantastical third album U.F.O.F..
By the arrival of Big Thief's third album, U.F.O.F. ("UFO friend" per lyrics in the title track), songwriter Adrianne Lenker had established herself as a singular force in indie music, both through two acclaimed albums with her band and with more delicate solo material including 2018's Abysskiss. In the meantime, Big Thief had toured almost constantly between preparing their 2016 debut, Masterpiece, and recording U.F.O.F., all the while becoming more and more tight-knit as a group.
On Big Thief's third album, U.F.O.F. (UFO Friend), the band sound more at ease than ever, yet there is an unmistakeable, gentle restlessness willing the four-piece toward darker, more magical realms. Their much-beloved first two albums, Masterpiece and Capacity, often touched on this elemental curiosity, thanks to bandleader Adrianne Lenker's free-flowing storytelling that blended reality with imagination, but on U.F.O.F., Big Thief have fully immersed themselves in their world, where the mundane becomes the supernatural. The album ….
Three albums into their career, you may expect UFOF to be Big Thief‘s big commercial breakthrough, a move into big commercial pop that would take them up to the next level. Yet Big Thief aren’t your typical band, and UFOF is very much not your typical third record. Instead, the New York quartet have eased the tempo down, made the arrangements even more frail and spartan than before and created a ghostly hush of an album.
In the two years since their second album, Capacity, Big Thief's Adrianne Lenker doubled down on her band's indie-folk subterfuges with abysskiss, a solo album whose surface prettiness concealed thorny details that snagged on you the more you burrowed in. Clearly, she felt there was more to explore in its dream-tinted pathways, because Lenker doesn't just port two songs (From, Terminal Paradise) from abysskiss over to Big Thief's third album. Between its pellucid guitars, unhurried restraint and romantic folk-poet reveries on life's enigmas, UFOF finds Big Thief confident enough in their powers to hold their secrets close and let you come to them.
L istening to Big Thief's third album, UFOF (the second "F" standing for "friend"), it's evident that it was informed more by where it was recorded - rural Washington state - than by the band's Brooklyn home. These exquisitely rendered folk-based songs are for the most part hushed and gentle, while their elliptical lyrics reveal a fascination with nature and the great outdoors. Whether Adrianne Lenker is singing "Hound dogs crowing at the stars above/ Pigeons fall like snowflakes" or "See the luna moth cry/ Lime-green tears through the fruit bat's eyes", the fact her words are so infrequently rooted in contemporary urban life give the songs a timeless quality.
The celestial mystery of the UFO has long been a fascination of modern popular folklore. They represent the unknown, a sort of mythical uncertainty of what could lie outside the confines of our narrow lives . On Brooklyn-based indie folk band Big Thief's third record, 'U.F.O.F.', the alien beings play the role of the interested outsider, a 'Friend' lending an ear to the enigmatic voice of Adrianne Lenker as she weaves a tapestry of spiritually intense stories.
O ver the course of their previous two albums, New York foursome Big Thief pruned their meaty alt-rock back into mellow indie. UFOF sees them pare things down further still, in a collection of gentle folk that seems dazed by its own exquisite beauty. Sometimes, the results bring to mind a sugar-coated Elliott Smith: acutely lovely melodies are layered over beds of softly hypnotic guitar, the finger-picked figures gratifyingly soporific in their apparent capacity to continue for ever.