By Kenneth Cox
Band: Big Thief
Favorites: "U.F.O.F," "Jenni," "Cattails"
For Fans Of: Lucy Dacus, Radiohead, Bon Iver
Space is the final frontier for some, but for Big Thief, it feels like only the beginning. The four-piece indie rock group from Brooklyn, NY has been one of the most buzzed-about names in indie rock since the release of their debut album Masterpiece in 2016. Fronted by lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist Adrienne Lenker, the group has spent the years since sharpening their talents, releasing their 2017 record Capacity and touring extensively. These years of work and dedication from the band has paid off with their incredible new record, U.F.O.F.
From the first seconds of opening track “Contact,” the band sets the scene for the album.
U.F.O.F showcases a hypnotic, celestial blend of folk and indie rock that has become Big Thief’s signature sound. Guitar riffs create what seems like an infinite loop of sound while drums subtly beat on in the background, all being anchored by Adrianne Lenker’s haunting vocals. It is an album that is not immediate, but patient. It allows listeners to get lost in the world that Big Thief creates. And once listeners are in that world, it’s hard to imagine they’ll want to leave.
The band’s sound is toyed with throughout the album’s twelve tracks.
“Jenni” is a late-album highlight that adds screeching guitars and droning atmospheric sounds to the mix. The band creates an almost gothic tone to their music, recalling bands like Joy Division and early songs by The Cure without sacrificing their folk roots. Other songs like “Orange” strip the band to its bare essentials, featuring solely Lenker and her guitar. It is a heartbreakingly beautiful song, with Lenker showing that she can command listeners' attention and create a stunning track with just her voice and a few chords.
U.F.O.F also showcases a grand new scope in Lenker’s lyricism.
Big Thief has been no stranger to nature motifs within their work. Their past albums Masterpiece and Capacity both were rife with vivid imagery of animals, plains, plants, and countless other sights. However, the band’s newest album takes their lyrics to the farthest reaches of outer space. “To my UFO friend/Goodbye, goodbye/Like a seed in the wind/She's taking up root in the sky” sings Lenker during the album’s title track, attempting to make sense of the unknown in her life. It is a unique pairing, combining the cosmic with the organic, the familiar with the mysterious.
Other songs on the album, like the single “Cattails,” share in this extraterrestrial imagery.
The song has a folky, classic feel to it, but the lyrics take it to another world.“Meteor shower at the motel/Where the empty space is a saving grace/Making good time and doing well/Still the question sings like Saturn’s rings” sings Lenker, and it seems as if there is no limit to her vision of the world. The way Lenker writes makes one think that she has the ability to travel time and space, melding together the infinite and fleeting to create something wholly original. Whereas other bands might stick to what they know, it feels like Big Thief has seen it all, and isn't afraid to share with their listeners.
U.F.O.F shows why Big Thief have become one of the most acclaimed bands in indie rock. From the poetic, expansive lyricism to the subtle, atmospheric sound, U.F.O.F shows the band becoming the best version of themselves they can be. As the album ends, it's not a question of what can Big Thief do, but rather, of what can't they possibly succeed in doing.