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

I set down to squeeze out this album review after listening to Big Thief’s new album a few times on Spotify, ready with my notes and quips eagerly prepared. It was in blissful ignorance and stupidity then, that I realised what I had actually been listening to was a variety of shuffled and shortened EPs of their new album tracks, rather than the album itself. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, Big Thief’s actual new album, is a 20-song and 80-minute long behemoth. Instead of writing two albums a year, Big Thief have decided to write one album that’s two albums long. This review could not be squeezed out. I suddenly had a lot more revision to do. 

And it wasn’t a drag. Releases of this length normally have padding and dead-weight that makes you wonder why they decided to release something this long in the first place. For Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, I don’t think this was the case. Normally you hear about artists making tough decisions and cutting songs that don’t fit the album flow or sound. Here, Big Thief have been able to hold together a bundle of disparate and expansive, original and cohesive wheat, without any of the chaff.

The album is full of unpredictable turns, none more so than in the first three songs. The first track, ‘Change’, is an intimate, live-recorded, soft-rock number now synonymous with Big Thief. The second track, ‘Time Escaping’, sounds more synonymous with The Beta Band. The reverb vocals, multi-track, break-beat synth melodies and cow bells are unexpected but make for one of the highlights of the album. On the third track, ‘Spud Infinity’, and yes this is still the same band, we enter an irreverent barn dance of a song, complete with a fiddle and boing-ing Jaw Harp. And yet, none of this seems particularly out of place.

Adrianne Lenker has talked elsewhere about her writing on this album being “more fearless” and “more confident”, and they also seem to be taking themselves less seriously. ‘Spud Infinity’ and other country numbers, eg. ‘Red Moon’, and the closing trackBlue Lightning’, add a more up-beat feeling throughout the whole album. The imagery and subject of Lenker’s lyrics are still very similar to previous releases, focussing mostly on natural and pastoral settings, but the content is much less vulnerable, raw and emotional than previous releases, Two Hands and U.F.O.F. 

The middle section and second half feature more surprises. ‘Blurred View’ and ‘Wake Me Up To Drive’, with processed beats and leading synth is something we haven’t heard from Big Thief before. ‘Flower of Blood’ has the heavier, distorted, reverb-guitar production of stadium rock, and ‘Little Things’, another highlight of the album, is a meditative and rhythmic song that develops into a loud and repetitive shoegaze outro. ‘Dried Roses’ is maybe my favourite song on the album; a sombre country waltz accompanied by violin and harmony, seems to be about a time long since gone and of someone yearning for more than their lot – then she mentions a microwave, so maybe it’s not about that. ‘Love Love Love’, with its distant-sounding vocals and Buck Meek’s rasping lead guitar sound like it could have been a hit on one of Big Thief’s first two albums. And then there are the sort of catchy singles like ‘No Reason’ that they seem to produce effortlessly now.

I have to admit that when I was misguidedly listening to the EP on spotify, I wasn’t blown away with what I heard, and I was honestly going to write an average review. As soon as I turned the real album on, and the first sounds you hear are Adrianne Lenker’s, muttering under breath, ready to begin ‘Chance’, I had a different experience. Maybe it’s because the songs were all shuffled up, like playing all the right notes in the wrong order. The end of the album is book-ended with chatter over the microphone like the start, I think Buck Meek talking to the band asking “what’s next”. More please.

Anthony Warrington