Secret Meeting score: 95
by Philip Moss
Adrianne Lenker’s debut solo album, 2014’s Hours Were The Birds, depicted a young, talented troubadour across a collection of fine songs that paired her vulnerable, elfish voice with a battered acoustic guitar. Lenker was newly arrived in New York, and having newly met fellow songwriter, Buck Meek, they formed Big Thief within a year of the record’s release: a group that would allow the then 23-year-old songwriter to embellish her already beautiful, pictorial songs.
But where Big Thief’s first two records – Masterpiece and Capacity – felt like Lenker’s skeletal songs had been fleshed out by a backing band, U.F.O.F comprises fully realised compositions. The title track and Cattails, in particular, are the closest the four piece have ever come to dream pop territory – acoustic guitars swirl over pared back Deverndorf-esque drums that pitter patter under Lenker’s flitting and flickering voice, which is rightly pushed further forward in the mix than on previous outings.
It is also a record filled with space. None of the songs rush – they’re more than happy to spiral slowly and grow – taking their time to tell their tales and nestle firmly under your skin. At the heart of the record, are two of the best and most melodic songs Lenker’s ever committed to tape. Open Desert has a meditative quality, while Orange is the sole Lenker solo performance and arguably the gem in U.F.O.F’s crown.
Two of the LP’s tracks – From and Terminal Paradise – have been released before, and can be found nestled on Lenker’s solo album, abysskiss, which was released last year. But here, with full band arrangements, they take on a new lease of life and sit comfortably onto U.F.O.F – any worries that they may not ‘fit’ soon evaporate. Ironically, From, which features only voice and guitar in its previous guise, somehow feels even more vulnerable in its new carnation. While Terminal Paradise – which sees Buck Meek take on backing duties, and recalls the pair’s A-Sides/B-Sides collection – is an absolute standout on an album where there are many. It also shows off long-time producer, Andrew Sarlo’s subtle, nuanced flourishes that only add to an already wondrous experience.
After already putting out two very strong records over last half decade, Big Thief have well and truly dismissed the difficult third album myth. U.F.O.F is a huge statement of intent: a genuine classic album that not only sets the four piece apart from their contemporaries, but confirms them as one of the most uniquely exciting bands America has ever produced. Yes, it’s that good.