Release date: Friday, February 11th 2022 on 4AD
In the past six years, Big Thief have established themselves as one of the most prolific (both collectively and individually) and compelling bands recording today. On their 2016 debut record Masterpiece, they reinvigorated the folk-rock genre with their mix of lo-fi sensibilities and full band sound.
As a band, on paper, Big Thief shouldn’t really work, given the fact that they include a divorced couple (Adrienne Lenker and Buck Meek) and a group of musicians who have a vast range of solo projects between them. Yet when these members come together they create a magic that is irresistible.
Following the release of two albums in 2019, the band decided to travel to four very different locations – New York, the Topanga Canyon in California, the Colorado Mountains and the Arizona desert – and work in four different studios with four different engineers to see what they could create. Out of this experiment, they recorded 45 songs in all, 20 of which have been released here on this stunning double album.
Twenty tracks coming in at a listening time of over 80 minutes could try the patience of even the most ardent fan, but Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You is such a joy that you will wish that Big Thief had included the other 25 discarded songs. They slide effortlessly through styles and genres, with Lenker’s intricate lyrics and vulnerable vocals leading the way, in songs that range from country to folk, classic Americana to indie-rock with a bit of shoe-gazing thrown in for good measure.
These songs encompass the range of Big Thief’s influences. The loose country twang of songs like album opener ‘Change’, ‘12000 Lines’ and ‘Red Moon’ are complemented by the pared back beauty of ‘The Only Place’ and the sweet harmonies of ‘Dried Roses’ and ‘Sparrow’. ‘Simulation Swarm’ embraces their folk-rock sound, by way of Edie Brickell, and this is carried through on the epic ‘Time Escaping’ and the otherworldly, beautifully layered arrangements of the title track. They show that they are capable of louder, bigger rock on the heavier sound of ‘Flower of Blood’ and aren’t afraid of more leftfield surprises such as the Cocteau Twins influenced ‘Little Things’ and the bluegrass inflections of ‘Blue Lightning’. Some of these juxtapositions can jar, but with songs this good, who really cares?
Lenker’s songwriting is sublime throughout. It might defy characterisation, but it is consistently good, avoiding any of the pitfalls of the double album format. There is no filler here at all, instead, there are songs that would define another release. The beautiful ‘No Reason’ with its rousing flute solo, is a perfect pop song (I defy anyone who hears it to be able to get it out of their heads) while ‘Certainty’ would make John Prine proud.
The band’s propensity to use first takes is as energising as it is surprising. Sometimes you hear the band members talking to each other, as if in rehearsal, which seems to be an attempt to capture the very essence of this bands’ raw, natural talent and makes for a vibrant listening experience.
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You is an undoubted commitment – eclectic, unpredictable and lacking in cohesion – but that’s what makes it such a surprising and exciting joy. ‘Even if I’m tired I don’t wanna miss the ride’, Lenker sings on ‘Wake Me Up to Drive’ and this album is one drive you really don’t want to miss.
Big Thief has created an album full of whimsical charm, song-writing magic and pitch-perfect arrangements, which yield rich rewards from a band of collective, effortless brilliance.