Usually when we speak of an artist’s connection to a consciousness beyond what most of us ordinary folk experience, we’re referring to their seemingly more acute powers of perception or empathy, to the way they can exactingly transcribe into music and words the sensations the rest of us bluntly half-feel.
U.F.O.F., however, makes a convincing case that Adrianne Lenker may literally be in communication with a manner of supernatural life the rest of us can’t perceive, and honestly we’re maybe better for it. U.F.O.F. is an album as hauntingly beautiful as it is straight up haunted, as inviting and warm as it is seriously creepy. An eerie presence swirls at the periphery these songs like a unexplainable shadow in a photograph. It lurks in their diverting chord changes and ethereal production effects before bursting violently into focus, be it in the form of a bludgeoning guitar tone or in the way that Lenker’s voice becomes a sharp snarl with certain key words. To listen to U.F.O.F. is to hear Lenker continually brush up against unknown, to hear a series of strange encounters relayed in captivating imagery and enchantingly pretty folk rock.
The first of these is documented on opening track Contact, in which Lenker appeals with Elliott Smith-like intimacy to someone (or something) called Jodi. “Please turn the pages for me”, she sings, and later “I want to drink your milk”, suggesting a matriarchal figure. There are some further clues (“she gives me gills / helps me forgive the pills”) and then a revelation – “she is both dreamer and dream” – accompanied by a bone-chilling, jump scare of a shriek. It’s a deeply unsettling moment that in this reviewer’s media-poisoned mind can’t help but recall the third installment of Twin Peaks, with its riddles about the dreamer who lives inside the dream and pivotal scream that signals the volatile meeting of two worlds.
And as much as it’s a cliche to compare anything to Twin Peaks, David Lynch’s series is a fitting touchstone for what Big Thief are doing with U.F.O.F.. It similarly twists familiar Americana archetypes into something uncanny and beguiling while filling the misshapen contours with touches of the paranormal and fantastic. Likewise, addiction and death feature prominently, and Big Thief share a fascination with mysteries of the natural world; billions of silk works are born and die in the construction a single thread on Strange, while a figure with flies in her eyes wanders the forest on Orange.
Instrumentally, U.F.O.F. recalls oddball melodicism of Radiohead – particularly the ghostly guitar work of In Rainbows – as well more vintage influences; Lenker is big on Joni Mitchell and the latter’s bucolic atmosphere is present throughout. Without question though, this is a work of stunning originality, particularly with regards to its lyrics, at times bizzare (“pigeons fall like snowflakes at the border”) and others harshly sobering (“It hurts to see clearer / falling like needles the passage of time”).
Big Thief’s U.F.O.F is out now, via 4AD.