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Big Thief: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You (2022)

Written by Adele Fennessy

After a three year wait, Big Thief returns for their fifth album ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’, exploring a new sound encompassing genres from country to folk to alternative rock. The album is not only sonically diverse but also comments on all things from the beauty of nature, to domestic bliss and even the wonder that is garlic bread. This is no doubt the masterful songwriting of lead singer Adrianne Lenker, who was one of several band members to release solo projects in the midst of the pandemic, but nevertheless, this album sees the band back together again and in better form than ever.

Despite its lengthy run time, spanning twenty tracks, the album remains easy on the ear – as seen from the opener ‘Change’, all the way to its closing track ‘Blue Lightning’. The first track sees Lenker’s voice shine against an acoustic guitar and sparse percussion- but the ensemble grows as members join in, culminating in the band in its complete form once again. 

Picture credit: YouTube

The album rapidly transitions into the wonderful chaos of ‘Time Escaping’, full of jarring percussion made by using a multitude of unconventional objects, including metro cards. There’s a dissonance that works perfectly with Lenker’s delivery as its conflicting arpeggios move in every direction. Similarly, the track ‘Wake Me Up To Drive’ further expands the sound of the album. Despite its use of drum machines and synths, it somehow retains the album’s country-folk sound with its melodies and lyrics as an ode to ‘the open road’. The ninth track ‘Flower Of Blood’ is an explosion of a nineties indie-rock sound, echoing the style like something from Soccer Mommy’s 2020 album ‘color theory’

A highlight of the album arrives in the third track ‘Spud Infinity’, embracing its true country sound with its bright fiddle and even a jaw harp. Lenker’s imperfect vocal performance as she sings about the ‘extra-terrestrial’ and ‘potato knish’, makes the track irresistibly endearing. Its musical counterpart is the track ‘Red Moon’, having a similar country sound and lyrics on finding a domestic world within nature, as Lenker gives an honourable mention to her grandma; ‘I’ve been here before, looking at the wild country / Open the screen door, talking with Diane Lee’. The recording heard on the album was recorded in one take with the band playing live, once again highlighting their unbeatable strength as an ensemble. 

The grittiest point on the album is the somewhat sombre ‘Blurred View’, having a nostalgic trip-hop sound like that of Portishead or Massive Attack with its claustrophobic and sultry lyrics; ‘I am the sweaty sheets /The wet bed’. Additionally, with the track ‘Simulation Swarm’, its ambiguous tone interrupts the optimistic sound of the album as we know it. The song follows Lenker dealing with overwhelming experiences, from her own hospitalisation to a devastating breakup, that only she would be able to craft into such poetry; ‘Cutting at the silent clay / A relief, beckon deep blue / Fettered in the magnet sun’. 

However, the album lingers on these darker moments only briefly, as the tone shifts with tracks like ‘Little Things’ and the title track ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’. This track’s soft sound, with its echoes of wind chimes and Lenker’s vocals full of reverb, truly feels like ‘a little bit of magic’, as she repeats throughout the song. One of my favourites from the album is the thirteenth track ‘No Reason’. Continuing with a similar sound, it encapsulates the hopefulness sprinkled throughout the album, urging the listener to ‘come together’ after enduring the isolation of the pandemic; ‘Been pulling through / since the last time I touched you / making do with an internet signal’. The instrumentation promotes this feeling of togetherness as several voice parts join Lenker in the chorus, and the group expands by adding a warm flute arrangement to the mix that carries us out of the track.  

Picture credit: Pitchfork

A stripped-back sound is heard on songs like ‘Dried Roses’ and ‘The Only Place’, the latter sounding like a B-Side from Lenker’s 2020 solo album ‘songs’. The song ebbs and flows with its single guitar line and Lenker’s voice to accompany it, detailing an apocalyptic dedication to a partner, that “When all material scatters / And ashes amplify / The only place that matters / Is by your side.” Similarly, ‘Promise Is A Pendulum’ exhibits the varied use of sound engineering, as in contrast to the album’s larger arrangements, it seems to not have been tampered with at all, sounding like it was recorded live on a tape machine and left untouched. This works in its favour – it is an untouched gem of masterful songwriting, featuring some of Lenker’s most poetic lyrics as she observes the natural world around her, from its ‘shimmer of the beech leaves as the wind does a big sneeze’ to ‘the winter with her cold tears of glitter’. 

‘Blue Lightning’ sees the band reuniting in full once more for the final track, including a full percussion section equipped with a tambourine and even featuring a horn section that matches Lenker’s melody as she playfully sings; ‘I wanna be the vape that gets you high/… I wanna be the shoelace that you tie’. Instruments seem to fade out one by one, as though each member of the band is parting from us as we near the end of the album. 

The album accurately demonstrates the strength of Big Thief’s new expansive sound. Lenker seems to have graduated from the tender lyricism we have seen in past projects, now exhibiting a whole new level of genius as she seems more carefree in simply choosing to write about anything and everything that moves her. The compilation of tracks, although varying in tone and scale, perfectly fit with one another to create a cohesive project, making this Big Thief’s best musical venture to date. The final lines we hear of the album is one of the members candidly adding ‘What should we do now?’, aptly leaving us in anticipation for what the band will release next. 

Written by Adele Fennessy