By Izzy Smith, First Year Geography
Big Thief return with their fifth album ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain, I Believe in You’, a sparkling 20-track epic that masterfully straddles indie-folk, country, rock and experimental instrumentation in what might be the band’s most exciting project to date.
After a stream of singles drip-fed since August 2021, Big Thief’s latest album has finally arrived. In the spirit of its lengthy title, ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain, I Believe in You’ sees the Brooklyn-based four-piece embrace expanse and exploration. Recorded post-lockdown over the course of a few months in four distinctly different locations across the US (Upstate New York, Topanga Canyon, The Rocky Mountains, and Tucson, Arizona), and with each recording session accompanied by a different engineer, Big Thief seem to reach out in every musical direction: from the lively and partly synthetic ‘Time Escaping’ to the stripped back pure acoustic folk of ‘The Only Place’.
The band's subject matter is similarly broad in scope as lead singer and songwriter Adrianne Lenker grapples with heartbreak, death, rebirth, and religion –sometimes all at once, as with the intimate opening track ‘Change’, which posits the question “Would you live forever, never die?”, and where death is “like space, the deep sea, a suitcase”.
Dearest people,— Big Thief (@bigthiefmusic) February 11, 2022
It is with the deepest love, at the core of the core of the center at the center of our hearts we offer our new record 𝗗𝗿𝗮𝗴𝗼𝗻 𝗡𝗲𝘄 𝗪𝗮𝗿𝗺 𝗠𝗼𝘂𝗻𝘁𝗮𝗶𝗻 𝗜 𝗕𝗲𝗹𝗶𝗲𝘃𝗲 𝗜𝗻 𝗬𝗼𝘂. Today <3https://t.co/08TIgv4pGJ pic.twitter.com/7jtgJnwQVS
Despite the weight of topics broached, moments of comedic introspection and eccentric lyrics keep the album afloat and joyful, and feels like a fresh approach when compared to previous, more sombre efforts by the band. The playful country track ‘Spud Infinity’ is backed by fiddle and jaw harp, sounding as though it’s been pulled from a children’s cartoon show. Lenker somehow manages to contemplate the complexity of Earth and existence as well as giving a shoutout to garlic bread all within the space of a few lines. And somehow, it works.
Other album highlights include the ethereal ‘Little Things’, where surging guitar, bright snares and hand claps by drummer and producer James Krivchenia provide momentum. Meanwhile, Lenker’s vocals swell, Kate Bush-esque, as she addresses a past partner whose unpredictable “gold and blue” feelings leave her feeling used and uncertain.
On the title track, bookended by the line “it’s a little bit magic”, the sound of shattering icicles (yep, icicles), are credited as part of the backing percussion. ‘Magic’ might just be the single best way to describe this album; unorthodox and explorative, a collection of lightning flashes of musical brilliance. Like swaying track ‘Certainty’, captured during a power cut through a tape recorder powered by a cigarette lighter, or ‘12,000 Lines’, recorded immediately after the band took a freezing swim, wet clothes still dripping onto the studio floor.
The tightness and unmistakable chemistry of the band comes across throughout the album, with many tracks being recorded live and in a single take. The music video for ‘Red Moon’ captures the group at work, dizzying, as the band forms an inward-facing circle around the studio and a centrally positioned camera pans around to face each member. It’s also the actual take that appears on the final album. Bassist Max Oleartchik has likened performing with the band to steering a dragon: perhaps an insight into this sense of magic that seems to grace the project. Big Thief are a mystical force.
Some might complain about the length of the double album and lack of single cohesive concept, but despite the 80-minute run time, listening is never a chore with each track distinct and interesting. The project is sprawling and listening feels like a glimpse into some other-worldly universe. The weird, wonderful, and moreover magical universe of Big Thief somehow keeps getting better and better. This one is worth your time.
Featured image: 4AD
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