Album Review: Big Thief — ‘UFOF’

Posted: by The Editor

The way you perceive Big Thief’s UFOF might depend on who you think Jenni is. The titular character to the record’s penultimate track, Jenni is a name repeated over and over and we are given very little information about her (“her skin so bare…her vacant eye.”) Is she a partner? A friend? A family member? Is her presence sinister or welcomed? There are a lot of ways you can perceive her appearance as the record winds down toward its end.

There are plenty of such ambiguities on UFOF, and all of them are fascinating. The third record from the Brooklyn group is a touch weirder than their previous work, the album is decidedly less narrative driven than Masterpiece or Capacity. Ephemeral wisps of smoke floating through your fingers and up to the sky. A signal to someone unknown in twinkling acoustics and desperate peaks of noise. Big Thief’s reach toward something greater and less rooted to this earth is apparent as “Contact” comes to a close. A serene dreamscape comes abruptly awake in a very real, piercing scream as the guitar turns electric, gliding toward a concerned ending. “UFOF” directly addresses an interstellar friend, Adrianne Lenker’s lyrics a plea to them as they leave, maybe forever. In this wistful departure, the song, sweet and assured like a nursery rhyme, reaches for familiar, earthly ways to understand something wholly strange and beautiful (“like a seed in the wind / she’s taking up root in the sky.”)

Many of the songs on UFOF feel like snapshots, fleeting moments gone by, of which only small details remain. In songs like the dazed “Open Desert,” the act of trying to remember feels like a strange, pensive place all its own, the memories only coming back in code (“through the poison image / brave surrender / kiss the water.”) No conclusion is reached, but there are plenty of pieces laying about the room to get something out of, and that’s enough. The song ends in eerie, layered, nonverbal “ohhs” reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. Like that album, UFOF holds a lot of weight that feels difficult to accurately describe.

The magic of this record is the way it draws you into something it’s certainly not sure of itself. For instance, there aren’t enough details to definitively say who “Jenni” is, but there are enough for me to say that I think Jenni is a ghost, standing sweetly but silently in the corner, asking nothing. This theory lines up with the way I see most of this album—messages sent through some barrier to someone who was once there. We receive them as if we are on the other side, and although the communication is somewhat inscrutable, they still feel warm, beautiful, loving.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Jordan Walsh | @jordalsh

The Alternative is ad-free and 100% supported by our readers. If you’d like to help us produce more content and promote more great new music, please consider donating to our Patreon page, which also allows you to receive sweet perks like free albums and The Alternative merch.