AOTY 2023
Big Thief - U.F.O.F.
May 3, 2019
You have to keep moving and growing to stay alive to the creative process and Big Thief has done all that and more on their third album. The Lenker/Meek songwriting team is one of the best in indie rock/indie folk and they are in full flower here. There is more continuity with Masterpiece and Capacity than some critics are claiming, but the main difference here is the way this band has become one organism, meshing together perfectly and seamlessly.

The recording process builds on the strength of that intimacy, taking a whole 3 weeks from start to finish, including writing, recording, and mixing. That is extraordinarily fast to produce something of this advanced quality. All credit to Dom Monks and Andrew Sarlo for the faith and courage to make that vision real. Live recording of a full set-up allows the band to demonstrate the closeness of their fit with each other and allows the album to sound fresh and spontaneous.

It is the authentic spontaneity of these songs that lends them the dramatic weight necessary to ground Lenker’s mournful quaver, always on the verge of breaking and fading. Her lyrics never fail to amaze, inspire, and devastate, and her ear for melody is flawless. “Cattails” has such a beautiful flow that by the time you reach that lawn chair in the middle of the river, you can feel the water rushing by, and this verse is pure poetry:

“And I find you there in your country flair
Middle of the river in a lawn chair
With your wrinkled hands and your silver hair
Leaving here soon and you know where
To where the cattail sways with the lonesome loon
You'll be riding that train in late June”

The album gets really quiet at times. The restrained and under-stated “Strange” allows Meek’s obbligato to shine and we get a rare bass lead from Oleartchik on this song that gets almost jazzy at the end. This is followed by the similarly muted “Betsy” which eases you into the absolutely devastating “Terminal Paradise”, where the Meek/Lenker duet is heartbreakingly beautiful, and the song seems to have a little more production work than its predecessors.

“Magic Dealer” is the perfect outro, and the stark balance of Krivchenia’s punctuated percussion and Lenker’s final benediction leads the whole thing to end in drift and static. It is the sound of leaving this earth, for parts unknown.

Taken as a whole, this is a wonderful record. The total impact is significant, but it does not really have the stand-out moments like “Masterpiece”, “Paul”, and “Mary”. It is definitely a step forward but also a reminder of the singular quality of their previous records. Its best quality is to serve as a marker that makes you want to go back and listen to everything else the band has done, as well as the solo projects of Lenker, Meek, and Krivchenia. You won’t be sorry if you do.

Spot on about 'Cattails.' Great review as well!
thanks @musicmagpie55 !
Cattails is going on every mix I make for awhile.
Not sure if you listened to their Meek/Lenker A-Sides B-Sides albums or not but those are severely overlooked.
yes agreed.
More Reviews by JohnLouisHoward
Big Thief - Two Hands
Oct 15, 2019
Big Thief - Capacity
Jun 5, 2017
Big Thief - Masterpiece
Jun 17, 2016
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