Review | Big Thief - U.F.O.F.
On their latest record, U.F.O.F, Big Thief's tormented soul almost seems at peace.
With past albums Masterpiece and Capacity, the Brooklyn-based quartet Big Thief established themselves as morbid miserabalists. Tiptoeing along a line of folk-rock tradition, their songs were simple yet loaded with enough heartbreak to last a lifetime. Their latest album, U.F.O.F., leaves behind the intimate devastation of songs like Paul, instead finding a more tranquil landscape. Unexpectedly, the band’s tormented soul almost seems at peace on this new record.
Despite these changes, frontwoman Adrianne Lenker’s whispery and vulnerable voice remains the centerpiece of the music. Her vocals, like a fusion of Joan Baez and Elliott Smith, glimmer with aches and laments. However, unlike past Big Thief albums and Lenker’s solo endeavor from last year, Abysskiss, U.F.O.F. offers more dynamic sounds. The album is quietly vibrant. It’s punctuated by gentle harmonies and ethereal guitars. Expanding into the subdued atmosphere of dream pop, songs like “Jenni” are reminiscent of groups like Slowdive or Mojave 3. Big Thief have expanded their gaze from the harshness of reality into the realm of dreams or, at least, where those two territories overlap.
The most blatant evidence of Big Thief’s sonic evolution are “From” and “Terminal Paradise”: two songs lifted from Lenker’s solo album and re-recorded for U.F.O.F. The tracks, once driven exclusively by Lenker’s voice and delicate picking patterns, are transformed into denser, more complex pieces. They are assembled with harmonies, more guitars and percussion. The pieces now have crescendos, creating a tenser and more involving musical landscape. On previous albums, Big Thief sometimes felt restricted by their deliberately somber style. By exploring new techniques, U.F.O.F. sounds far more liberated and varied.
The entire album unfolds with a clear narrative structure. Beginning with more refined tracks, like the peaceful lead single “UFOF”, the album starts on a lighter note. As U.F.O.F. progresses, however, Big Thief introduce harsher sounds, veering into quasi-shoegaze territory. The heavy drums and distorted guitars on “Jenni” form the album’s climax, distancing itself from the effective, yet one-dimensional, misery of past works into something more emotionally nuanced.
Lenker’s songwriting is as masterful as ever. With U.F.O.F., she often masks human loss in metaphors that range from cosmic encounters to interactions with nature. Lenker’s affinity for nature-based imagery and self-reflection brings to mind the lyrical ballads of Romantic-era poets like Wordsworth. These images inject Big Thief’s traditional deluge of despair with something more picturesque. It’s not just pain and suffering- Big Thief turn their eyes to joy and sorrow, now making music about the difficult area where these feelings coincide.
This is not a radical reinvention. Lenker’s voice remains hushed and poignant. The songwriting is still personal and provocative. Even the instrumentation is hardly a departure from past Big Thief records. Yet somehow, U.F.O.F. feels vastly more mature. Its catharsis arrives so organically, finding an array of emotions outside the group’s classic punch of brute force anguish. In this sense, U.F.O.F. is an album about maturity. Evolution is not necessarily a dramatic re-branding. Often, it’s the product of careful introspection. This is the case of Big Thief: a group proving themselves dedicated to a modestly adventurous and fluid sound.
Best Song: Jenni
Worst Song: Magic Dealer