Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Videos by American Songwriter
Hearing the music of Big Thief sometimes feels like being let in on an intimate secret. That’s in part due to the delivery of vocalist Adrianne Lenker, who provides a wide range of expression without ever rising above her hushed, whisper of a voice. It’s also a result of the deep places that Lenker is willing to go in her lyrical narratives, like on 2016’s “Mythological Beauty,” in which she describes a freak accident from her childhood: “Blood gushing from my head/ You held me in the backseat with a dishrag …”
Pretty quickly on U.F.O.F., Lenker offers a surprising contradiction to the tonal palette set out on previous albums. Within the dusty, Crazy Horse-style rock climax of opening track “Contact,” there’s a series of jarring, distorted screams, breaking the gentle melancholy with a piercing intensity. The intimacy hasn’t disappeared, it’s just given way to an even more overwhelming rush of emotion with fewer filters to stand in the way of such a high-pressure release.
By and large, the sounds of U.F.O.F. are a continuation of those of the band’s last album, but the variations are noticeable. “Terminal Paradise” is a poetic meditation on death that grows increasingly rich and dense, with frantically plucking guitar strings and eerie backing vocals. “Jenni,” meanwhile, is a slow-moving dirge of psychedelically distorted guitars that feels more like Low at their heaviest. And the title track (the second F of which stands for “Friend”) is a narrative about befriending an alien whose departure is bittersweet, set to an arrangement that resembles Radiohead at their most beautifully intricate.
U.F.O.F. is a beautiful album, but one that finds Big Thief a little more willing to push their limits, both in terms of abrasiveness and grace. Perhaps Big Thief are no longer a secret, but they continue to draw the listener ever closer.