Music Reviews
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You

Big Thief Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You

(Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You) Rating - 9/10

2019 wouldn’t have sounded the same without Big Thief's double contribution of U.F.O.F. and Two Hands. Both not only established the quartet’s reputation as incredible songwriters, but also cemented them as masters of channeling location to create distinct atmospheres (U.F.O.F. and Two Hands were recorded in the Pacific Northwest and Texas desert, respectively).

Produced by drummer James Krivchenia, their latest, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, ups the geographical ante; the album was recorded at four locations, across four sessions, and with four different engineers. Yet to simply say their latest builds on the band’s approach is an understatement. This double album—these 20 songs—see the band craft an array of atmospheres, blending their previous approaches with a never-ending appetite for experimentation and wonder. This album is Big Thief’s best yet.

“From way up there it looks so small / From way down here it looks so small / One peculiar organism aren’t we all together,” Adrianne Lenker sings with a palpable sense of awe on Spud infinity, as if she’s uncovering the vastness of our world in real-time. Kaleidoscopic guitar strums drive Heavy Blend, complemented by Richard Hardy’s flute playing, which together emulate a dense forest. In some ways, these moments remind me of Animal Collective's outstanding album Sung Tongs—their own experimental document that tapped into a Lost Boys playfulness. Both bands understand the potential of childhood imagination; there are no rules.

Of course, it’s impossible not to hear the echoes of previous Big Thief in DNWMIBIY. The gentle ballad Change starts by highlighting the Big Thief listeners have come to know—cozy, intimate, and ready to invite listeners in with the warmth of a campfire. The album’s title track opens like the sun peeking through the darkest of clouds, decorating the leaves and grass in a serene sparkle, as on U.F.O.F. The album’s grittiest track, Love Love Love, calls back to the band’s more rock-driven work yet holds onto the immediacy of Two Hands. The harrowing Sparrow, which starts with Lenker’s slow and rich crooning, slowly swells with crescendos of emotion—her vocal harmonies give the song—a telling of when Eve eats the forbidden fruit—the emotional weight the moment deserves.

DNWMIBIY achieves these heights thanks to Lenker’s unmatched gift as a lyricist. She collapses the cosmic into the deeply personal (“I mean accepting the alien you’ve rejected in your own heart,” she instructs on Spud Infinity). She frames the beauty and power of nature with poetic imagery (“To hit the stage and blush wild, laughingly / Crush the rage and rush time tappingly,” she explains on Time Escaping). On the dense yet warm Little Things, Lenker spills her love for someone with crushing vulnerability. She revisits this idea on the album's final track, the jaunty Blue Lightning, on which she confronts the uncertainty of her love, and her own mortality, with the most sincere of metaphors: “I wanna be the shoelace that you tie” / “I wanna be the vapor gets you high.”

This is to say that equally important to the success of DNWMIBIY are the band’s more straightforward moments. Wake Me Up To Drive rides along a soft yet persistent pulse and gentle strumming. “We never plan ahead,” Lenker admits, describing a nomadic lifestyle that feels equally inspired by the musician’s life on the road. The barnhouse-inspired number Red Moon rolls with unbridled sincerity, accompanied by Mat Davidson’s fiddle playing. “That’s my grandma!” Lenker shouts at one point; moments like these underscore that these musicians are having so much fucking fun.

The album’s four sessions took place in Upstate New York, Topanga Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, and Tucson, Arizona. Big Thief agreed to work through them and save any editing until afterward, hoping instead to uncover perspective on their songs along the way. To borrow a turn of phrase, Big Thief focused on, quite literally, the journey and not the destination. The result is the most compelling case in years on the potential of the journey—the insights to be gleaned, the friendships to be strengthened, your own potential waiting to be untapped. Albums like DNWMIBIY make you believe in magic again.