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Review: Big Thief creates energy through glorious chaos in latest album

“Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You,” the indie folk band’s fifth studio album, is as lengthy and poetic as the title implies. Get lost, in a good way.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

“Change, like the sky, like the leaves, like a butterfly / Death, like a door, to a place we’ve never been before,” vocalist and songwriter Adrianne Lenker croons in a dreamy melody during the first track of Big Thief’s latest album. This song, “Change,” feels like a beginning, much like its lyrics imply. And, like the rest of this album, it holds wholly intentional, carefully crafted emotion that the band invites us to experience with them.

“Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” is a flowing musical odyssey for the band, moving beyond the generic (but wonderful) indie that they’re often associated with. The expansive 20-song record is somehow nostalgic and entirely new all at once, begging you to listen to it in its entirety, to witness their creation.

Brooklyn-based Big Thief, comprised of queer indie darling Adrianne Lenker, Buck Meek,​​ Max Oleartchik and James Krivchenia, had already made a place for itself in the metaphorical indie hall of fame with its first four albums, like 2019 releases “U.F.O.F.” and “Two Hands,” before embarking on the multi-year project that would eventually result in this album.

This release was recorded across the U.S. in four different locations, each with their own producers and musical additions. Eight singles were released in the lead-up to this album, hinting at its massive scope and 80-minute listen time.

Through winding, well-crafted lyricism and a willingness to be completely unpretentious, Lenker shines in this work. Genres meld and flow together throughout as the band moves through subject after subject, following through on Lenker’s promise of an album about “everything.” She sings of aliens, potatoes, breakups, shoelaces, snakes and long car rides.

Each track encapsulates a unique feeling along with a new blend of genre. There is no one way to describe this album as a whole, but somehow it feels cohesive through Lenker’s easy vocalization and complex lyricism.

“Sparrow” offers a biblical ode to Eve, while “Simulation Swarm” provides tongue-in-cheek social commentary. “Time Escaping” is a jaunty, dissonant romp through the mysteries of space time. “Certainty” channels The Head and the Heart era indie folk, stacked to the brim with raw and ethereal harmonies.

Some tracks verge on bedroom pop or eight-bit video game soundtracks in their whimsy, while others echo the dreamy folk of artists like Fleetwood Mac and some are bare acoustic that rely on gentle harmony rather than instrumentation.

“Spud Infinity” holds good humor that is almost parodic in its resemblance to classic country and bluegrass on first listen, with fiddle and twanging jaw harp aplenty. “Ash to ask and dust to dusk / A dime a dozen, aren’t we just? / But a dozen dimes will buy a crust of garlic bread,” Lenker sings before the song’s climax.

Its clever wordsmithing gives it away as something new as Lenker rhymes “finish” with “potato knish,” along the kind of joyous melody that I imagine could only be made barefoot in a creek. “When I say infinity, I mean now / Kiss the one you are right now,” she continues breathlessly.

The title track, as expressive as its name, begins with ambient wind chimes and doesn’t fail to deliver on its promise of complexity. Lenker’s echoey, breathy vocals accompanied by softly wailing instrumentation create an otherworldly feeling.

Despite the winding and lengthy path it takes, “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” holds cohesion in its chaos. It’s easy to zone out to some of the band’s droning melodies, but the listener is rewarded for leaning in to pay close attention.

“Hmm … Gorgeous set, okay, what should we do now?” one of Lenker’s bandmates says at the end of “Blue Lightning,” the final track. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Big Thief.

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