By: Melanie Broussalian
On their newest LP release, Brooklyn-based Big Thief delivers a sprawling display of the band’s talents, with each member bringing something new and unexpected to fans of their previous releases. Anyone familiar to Big Thief knows their work is often prolific; in 2019, the band released two profound LPs—UFOF and Two Hands—that were tightly sewn into a singular sound and narrative. When thinking about how to approach Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, drummer James Krivechnia proposed “various recording sessions in different locales with different engineers,” as described in an interview with Pitchfork. The result is a 20-song behemoth (clocking in at 80 minutes) that explores new frontiers for lead singer Adrianne Lenker, guitarist Buck Meek, and bassist Max Oleartchik. In a day and age where individual songs and tight 10-track records reign supreme, Dragon New begs a lot of the modern listener but offers reward after reward for those who listen from beginning to end.
Sonically, the record explores country, bluegrass, honky-tonk, and pure folk, with fiddles, accordions, slide guitars, and more peppering each track. “Spud Infinity,” in particular, stands as the biggest departure from Big Thief’s sound—with raucous bluegrass instrumentation, the track’s playfulness serves as a near-humorous backdrop to some of Adrianne Lenker’s bigger existential questions about living on this rotating rock hurling through space. There are obvious nods to John Prine and early Neil Young throughout Dragon New in songs like “Red Moon” and “Blue Lightning.” Dragon New also borrows its moments of simplicity sonically and lyrically from Lenker’s 2020 solo work, songs, as found in the title track, “Promise is a Pendulum,” and “12,000 Lines.”
Spontaneity and fun are more present in this record than the band’s previous work, inviting listeners to let go along with them. There’s an organized chaos in the instrumentals in “Little Things,” evoking a carefree vibe that Lenker says was present in studio. You can’t help but yearn to experience it in a festival setting, easily picturing the entire band gleefully passing off riffs and solos to one another. “Simulation Swarm” has a somewhat Wilco-esque character, with a forward-moving beat and guitar riff perfect for early-spring drives with the sun just peaking from behind high clouds. While thematically not as tight as UFOF or Two Hands, there’s a more organic approach to Dragon New, featuring deep lyrical references to the ever-changing seasons and sometimes cruel circle of life—as touched on in a retelling of Adam and Eve in “Sparrow.” It admittedly is easy to get lost within some of the record’s less memorable songs, but there’s no questioning that Big Thief is having the time of their lives making music. And boy, does it come through.