Much love for this here at greville
BIG THEIF U.F.O.F ,
well written article from Pitchfork
By Jeremy D. Larson
The third album from the Brooklyn quartet is an intimate and surreal experience, a true masterpiece of folk music from a band working together at the highest level.
Big Thief are their own small ecosystem: Guitarist Buck Meek, bassist Max Oleartchik, drummer James Krivchenia, and Adrianne Lenker, the singer and oxygen of the Brooklyn quartet, whose lyrics can, among other things, bind all that is living and has ever lived together at the cellular level. Their music is a network of wood and wire, uncanny in its ability to sound undiscovered, like you’re stumbling upon a new species of folk rock with every song. And because they work so well as an organism, the band has a way of giving value to things that hang damp and wrinkled in our world. In the hands of Big Thief, emotion, dreams, nature, memory, even acoustic guitars are artifacts of immense size and power.
This power that Big Thief give to the natural (and supernatural) defines their third and undoubtedly best album, U.F.O.F., a mesmerizing flood of life filtered down into a concentrated drip. It’s weird in the literary new weird sense: fantastical, alien; it is an unknown presence. Spend time with this album and soon there is no tempo but Big Thief’s trot, no voice but Lenker’s whisper, you are in a now-but-then, a here-but-there. Guitar lines are Mobius strips, basslines lead you off the map, and the drums feel less like Krivchenia is hitting them and more like he is lifting sounds out of them. A dazzling record, no doubt, but the boundless joy comes from its glacial restraint, from sensing all that lies beneath its surface and all that goes unsung.
The mystery of U.F.O.F. comes in part from Lenker’s lonely and elliptical verse, like Emily Dickinson if she picked up a copy of Court and Spark. The darkness that defined Big Thief’s first two albums—the abuse and stalkers on 2016’s Masterpiece, the trauma and railroad spikes to the skull on 2017’s Capacity—has either evaporated or taken refuge deep in the subtext. What were once vivid scenes between lovers, mothers, and children are now rendered more dreamlike and misty, as if observed in the distance through an attic window. On the title track, seasons bend and maps turn blue, as Lenker waves goodbye to her “UFO friend” and sings that the best kiss she ever had was the “flickering of water so clear and so bright,” an image so indelible she revisits the “kiss of water” a few songs later. There are few greater pleasures than following Lenker’s pen to her places of solitude.
In keeping with tradition, Lenker populates her songs with people, avatars, or named vessels for parts of her personality: Jodi, Betsy, Jenni, Violet, Caroline. But more verdant on U.F.O.F. are the creatures that surround them: circling doves and lonesome loons, worms and robins, fruit bats and flies, recurring motifs of the silkworm and the moth. Lenker’s writing suggests a vast consciousness, a direct line between the inner self and the outer world. On “Orange,” hound dogs crow and pigeons fall like snowflakes, but the surreal places she travels only end back at a place of raw emotional clarity—the fragile orange wind, the flesh crying rivers on her forearm—all of it comes back to the chorus: “Lies, lies, lies in her eyes.” Her lyrics, so exquisitely drawn, could make permanent the bond between heartbreak and a blade of grass.
A Brief History of Radiohead
For every color Lenker evokes on U.F.O.F.—auburn hair, black eyes, and turquoise lungs—the band provides a lush backdrop. It is clear that Big Thief perform with a governor, their Berklee training muffled beneath the creaky, simple melodies of folk music. Fleshed out by the band are two songs from Lenker’s 2018 solo album abysskiss, “From” and “Terminal Paradise.” The former is given depth by a hypnotic drum part from Krivchenia, the latter enhanced by Meek, who adds baritone harmony to Lenker’s reinvigorated vocal performance. Meek’s electric guitar work on the album is just alluring, especially the arcing feedback he adds to the show-stopping “Jenni,” which is, in fact, exactly what a big strobe-light shoegaze jam would sound like if it were made by forest elves.
Some of these nearly imperceptible moments are the album’s best, a production flourish or a small crescendo that flicker like a shoal of fish. If you’ll bear with me on the comparison, it reminds of Radiohead at their most intimate, on 2007’s In Rainbows. The interlocking compositions, the points and counterpoints made by Meek, Lenker, Oleartchik, and Krivchenia have the same elegance of design. But the contraction and expansion of a Radiohead song—the way it leads to somewhere big—is contrasted by Big Thief’s subtle turns they breathe into their arrangements. The feedback hum that leads into the final chorus of “U.F.O.F” or the cluster of harmonies that creep in at the end of “Strange” are more like occurrences or phenomenons, things you rush to capture with your phone but before you get it out of your pocket they’re gone.
It’s hard to put a finger on the exact essence of U.F.O.F. though that is part and parcel its majesty. When I think about Big Thief, I think about “deep ecology,” an environmental philosophy dating back to the 1970s that believes the value of nature is not dependent on how useful it is for human life. U.F.O.F. revels in this, an ancient system of great worth still whirring and rustling along, unbidden to the needs of our world.
There’s also the work of the naturalist writer Rachel Carson, who, in 1941, wrote what it feels like to listen to this album when she wrote about the ocean from its shore: “To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and the flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years … is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.” The name U.F.O.F. suggests a connection to the unknown both within and without, and when Lenker sings of being called through a portal on “Jenni,” she beckons you, too.