Review Summary: wilderness, vast abyss, will we ever kiss?
Big Thief fans, if they're anything like me, spent a fair slice of time since Two Hands
wondering what a halfway point between that album and U.F.O.F.
would sound like. It's only natural: the first album was dreamy and hazy, existing in liminal spaces between happy/sad, optimistic/pessimistic, life/death. Its successor was raw and uncompromising, an album of bold and straightforward emotion, turning its concerns from trees and sky to highways and dirt. I never had any expectation that there would
be a middle ground, nor that Big Thief would release music less than a year after two spectacular albums mere months apart, but Demos Vol. 1
fulfills an unspoken promise like this was a piece of the puzzle we were always meant to hear.
In more practical terms, it gives us a small window on Big Thief during the early stages of demoing for their 2019 releases, seemingly before the material had diverged into two distinct styles. "Blue and Red Horses" combines the taut, earthy grooves of Two Hands
with a winding vocal melody and elliptical lyric - sourced from Adrienne Lenker's abysskiss
, as were two cuts from U.F.O.F.
- which could fit into that album's surreal soundscape without issue. The title track of Lenker's album also appears, here transformed into a full-band ballad with a shimmering guitar line that recalls Midwest emo above anything else. Meanwhile, "Mermaid" and "Over" recall the stripped-back simplicity of "Forgotten Eyes" and "Open Desert" respectively, lacking the passion of those tracks' incredible vocal takes but showing potential nonetheless.
Appropriately sequenced as a closer and standing toe-to-toe with anything Big Thief released in 2019 is "Live Young". Like the perennially underrated "Wolf", the song is built primarily around Lenker's indelible voice and the hypnotic guitar work of Buck Meek, though electronic hums and glitches towards the end cause an unnerving break in the song's calm. Lenker sings "morning comes to divide the dreamer from the dream" over and over in a heartbreaking falsetto, almost a coda to U.F.O.F.
's major thematic concern of dreams and half-dispersed memories. If the title of the EP is to be believed, more demos are coming, but for now Vol. 1
is a gorgeous, satisfying release which enriches both its accompanying albums by providing a glimpse of their roots.