Understanding the recording process deepens the appreciation for Big Thief’s latest album. Bear Creek Studio isn’t only a cabin on a 10-acre farm outside Seattle; it is an immersive experience. The studio has produced some classic neo-folk albums; from The Lumineers’ Grammy award-winning self-titled debut to local darlings Shook Twins’ What We Do and Fleet Foxes Sun Giant EP. Towering icons such as James Brown and Eric Clapton have also recorded there. Artists live on the farm while recording their albums, giving each production a cohesive narrative.
U.F.O.F. is no exception. The title of the third album from New York-based indie heavyweights (their first on 4AD) can be expanded to “Unidentified Flying Object Friend” as seen in some of frontwoman Adrianne Lenker’s lyrics: “To my UFO friend / Goodbye, goodbye / Like a seed in the wind / She’s taking up root in the sky.” As if being sung to a visitor that arrives at the beginning of the album and departs by the end, Lenker, with Buck Meek on guitar, Max Oleartchik on bass, and James Krivchenia on drums, have co-created an interconnected album that is at once haunting and familiar. “Making friends with the unknown… All my songs are about this,” says Lenker; “If the nature of life is change and impermanence, I’d rather be uncomfortably awake in that truth than lost in denial.”
Together, with engineer Dom Monks and producer Andrew Sarlo, the band set out to capture some songs that they had been living with on the road during their frequent world touring — as well as songs like “Cattails,” which was written mere hours before being recorded and captured on the first take (vocals and all). Set-up in that large farmhouse in rural Washington, they were able to live-track the album as an ensemble, adding to the interdependence of their sound. Given the time they had to explore off-tour and not quite at home, Big Thief experimented, playing with what they call, “dynamic feedback and spiritual, rhythmic togetherness.” The result is a coherent and meaningful exploration of the known and unknown by a close-knit group of friends. Each song is like a short story that, when taken together, weaves a tale where not all the characters or plot-points are illuminated but the feeling is understood. Ultimately, the result is an incredible album that deepens with each revisit.