Album Review: Big Thief – ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’

Posted: by The Editor

Big Thief’s kaleidoscopic and spirited double LP Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, released via 4AD on February 11, deftly and creatively elaborates on the band’s expansion of sound that was teased on previous releases. In 2019, the band’s dual offerings, Two Hands and U.F.O.F., extended into separate terrestrial and celestial realms, and prior to that, Masterpiece and Capacity built out the quieter folk tunes of singer, songwriter and guitarist Adrianne Lenker’s earlier catalog, revealing the band’s capacity for depth and strength as a collaborative unit under Lenker’s stunning, oft-autobiographical lyricism.

Dragon achieves the cohabitation of all of these sounds, stretching out into the ether and emphasizing a sense of jangling sentimentality and eclecticism. The record was captured in four different sessions, each in different locations, honing different energies and ecologies of sound. The locales included Sam Evian’s Flying Cloud Studios in upstate New York, California’s Topanga Canyon, the Colorado Rockies, and Tucson, Arizona.

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You expands over 20 different tracks, coalescing around a few different sonic worlds and creating a kind of chaptered listening experience. It’s a sprawling, magical record that casts aside a handful of limiting notions about what a rock band should be. Instead, it feels unburdened and curious. It’s breathtakingly tender and raw, with the artful contributions from bassist Max Oleartchik, guitarist Buck Meek and drummer James Krivchenia all helping Lenker’s uniquely emotionally subterranean and sometimes surreal lyricism to soar and then again become grounded, blossoming over and over again in new forms and colors.

There’s a potent magic that alchemizes when the band leans in and embraces different approaches to their sound, production and arrangement, making a few surprising turns in new directions while also reaffirming their capacity to perform solidly as a rock band in the ways they did on their first two records. “Little Things” and “Simulation Swarm” are near-perfect standouts that harken back to those earlier releases, while “Flower of Blood,” “Heavy Bend” and “Blurred View” are esoteric and darker, departing into different textures and tones while introducing electronics.

On the other end of the spectrum, “Blue Lightning,” “Certainty,” “Red Moon” and “Dried Roses” demonstrate wandering, sentimental country-folk, capturing a keen sense of nostalgia and playfulness through the imagery of conversing through screen doors and being shaded by oak trees. This grouping also includes “Spud Infinity,” a tune that has been showing up on Big Thief setlists for years that relates potato knish and lonely elbows to existentialism and mortality in such an artful way that you may very well cry through your laughter.

On the quieter side, “Promise Is A Pendulum” and “The Only Place” feel like selects that could have lived on Adrianne Lenker’s 2020 solo LP, songs, but “Change” and “Sparrow” are slow and spiraling and are expertly grounded by the percussive elements contributed by drummer James Krivchenia, who produced the record. “Time Escaping” and “No Reason” are playful and a little mystical, exploring some broader, philosophical sentiments with a sense of fun and whimsy.

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You offers a wealth of new magical moments: the angular guitar solo on “Simulation Swarm,” the twangy guitars and sanguine lyricism on “Blue Lightning,” the sure to soon be infamous shout-out to Lenker’s grandmother Diane on “Red Moon,” the flute on “No Reason,” the monotone chug of “Wake Me Up to Drive,” the celestial stirrings on the title track. In its entirety, Dragon lands as Big Thief’s most light-hearted, expansive and ambitious creative statement yet. It’s balancing of lightness and complexity feels like an answer to the collective weight of the last few years, and it stands as a testament to the band’s ability to hone their supernatural capacity for collaboration.

Perhaps it’s a slightly sentimental take on music, or art in general, but I believe that at it’s best music is deeply life-affirming. Stories and sonic worlds that help us to transmute our own stories and emotions are one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to integrate and make sense of the complexities of our human experience. This is the kind of experience that Big Thief’s music can invoke if a listener is open to it. Dragon is for those who cried reading writer Robin Wall Kimmerer’s ode to indigenous plant wisdom Braiding Sweetgrass, those who love fiercely and live vividly, and those who want to believe that the earth, that life, that art, are all things worth holding dear. When “there is no reason to believe,” Big Thief is there to say “I believe in you.”

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Emma Bowers | @emmaebowers

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