Review Summary: Death dreams I won't forget
Big Thief have a tricky relationship with time. It's there in a song like 'Mythological Beauty' as a prowling force, as a tornado of images and moments, scattershot and all-powerful, as a run-on sentence full of dark foreboding as a mother-to-be's cut thumb morphs into a child's traumatic head wound. Time seems to exist in a dream state for the singer, so that a calming remembrance ends with Lenker waking up on that person's ceiling. It's just as important to her the moments that she's not made privy to, because who the hell knows, maybe anything really could
happen in those dangling uncharted minutes. It's a funny thing for the band, too, as they shot out two albums back to back, and hardly a breath between this and the last, yet they continue to grow at an exponential rate. The songs here are more spacious and free-flowing, oozing urgency with a conflicting sense of ease. There are a few more bumps in the night this time as well, manifesting as visceral shrieks and warped tape manipulation, but these songs remain untethered, vacillating through time and dreams and waking thoughts until you've arrived somewhere alien.
The band, of course, thrives in this headspace, welcoming the unknown with open arms ('there will soon be proof that there is no alien'
insists the title track). Not since Halcyon Digest
has there been a more in-depth exploration of how dreams can haunt our waking days, how the psychic scars of sleep can affect our lives: our friendships, our sense of selves, our very sense of trust. What is sleep but the absence of time, the unwilling acceptance of anonymous imagination" It eats Lenker up: people will disappear, forests will materialize, screaming sounds will rattle the floor. She quite stunningly posits that birth is an annihilating process, being snatched out of time, out of mindless dreaming, with no idea where one has come from. U.F.O.F.
is the latest page in Lenker's dream journal, another dialogue with the subconscious that ends "still as the moment we're lying in right now
" but alludes that this could be the moment after death (how else could we cease the ticking of the clock").
Better still, it's not all repose and thesis: there are, ya know, actual songs here, and those deliver just as well. Career highlight 'Cattails' has the kind of lilting twang and gently widening sway of all great traveling songs, riding shotgun with a song that can both soar and hover when the moment calls for it, all depending on how the collapsing sun casts its yawn through your window. 'Strange' has bouncy bass and dancing guitar runs until a ghostly hum casts the song askew, the bass all free-association dawdling where once was some of the perkiest instrumental backing of the album. 'Betsy' enters on an eerie whoosh only to unfold into an effortlessly shimmering ballad of plaintive ringing electric guitar with overlaid finger-picked notes of uncomplicated beauty. Lenker gives a stunning showing vocally as well, whether it's the way her odd phrasing in the chorus of 'U.F.O.F.' creates an infectious groove, or her inexplicable and unforgettable low range in 'Betsy'. She's able to create shadings of emotion when her voice dances between pitches, always seeming to know which notes and words to emphasise to leave a lasting impact. It's a dizzying brew of lyricism, musicianship and synergy that provides another dream come true for any fan following this rapidly exemplary band.