Album Reviews

Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

(4AD) UK release date: 11 February 2022

This big, sprawling album which allows Adrienne Lenker and co to move from hushed ballads to more raucous fare at a blink of an eye, yet never seems to outstay its welcome

Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You Double albums are always a tricky beast. Especially when you’re Big Thief, an act who have built their stellar reputation on a sound that’s at its best when it’s hushed and minimal. An album lasting 80 minutes, with no less than 18 tracks doesn’t seem like the ideal way to experience Adrienne Lenker and company.

Thankfully, that’s not the case on Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You. Underneath that rather unwieldy title lies a big, sprawling album which allows Big Thief to move from hushed ballads to more raucous fare at a blink of an eye. Unlike most double albums, it doesn’t feel unfocused, and despite its length, never seems to outstay its welcome.

This fifth album from the band has had quite the gestation period. Born under lockdown conditions in July 2020, initial sessions for the album were recorded in the woods of Vermont, before being built upon over the next five months across various locations in the United States. So the lovely hushed drums of 12,000 Lines feels almost like an immersive campfire song, and sits next to the more gently propulsive Simulation Swarm which feels like perfect road trip music.

With so many songs to pour over, it initially feels a bit overwhelming, but the album’s charms do not take long to come to the surface. Little Things is an early highlight, a hypnotic bluegrass stomper enlivened by Mat Davidson’s fiddle, while Spud Infinity manages to make a song about garlic bread and potato knish sound almost impossibly meaningful.

If you had to pigeonhole Big Thief into any sort of unhelpful genre, it would probably be folk, but the double album format gives the band scope to explore many different sounds. So, while opening track Change is what you may expect, a languidly unfolding ballad with subtly brushed drums, songs like Blurred View employ unsettling synth effects and electronic vocal effects. That darker edge is further explored in Flower Of Blood, while the title track, conversely, is light and breezy, just Lenker’s breathy vocals over an intricately played finger-picked guitar riff.

It’s also a double album that actually feels structured like one – the jaunty alt-country hoedown of Red Moon kicks off the second part of the record in some style, while the woozy singalong closer of Blue Lightning feels like the perfect way to end the album.

It’s also the sound of a band perfectly in tune with one another. While Lenker still leads, the way that James Krivchenia, Buck Meek and Max Oleartchik beautifully weave their melodies around her is almost mesmerising. The little snatches of relaxed vocals we hear also add to the impression of a band simply having their time of their lives making music with each other.

Newcomers to the Big Thief sound may be best pointed towards earlier albums such as Masterpiece or Capacity for a gentler introduction, but long-term fans will lap this up. It’s a beautiful record to immerse yourself in and just lose track of time for a while – once its myriad charms have become apparent, you won’t want to listen to anything else.

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