Lucy Clark reviews Big Thief’s latest album for Lippy
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, a name almost as long as the 20-song album, is an unburdened exploration into the ‘deepest elements and possibilities of Big Thief’. It is clear that after four albums they are escaping a fairly conventional, yet still brilliant formula for indie rock. Previous songs including ‘Shark Smile’, ‘Masterpiece’ and ‘Forgotten Eyes’ would struggle to fit within the new album. The full embrace of folk, as would best describe Dragon, sees the culmination of various new instrumentations and textures. With a mixture of pure beauty and the utmost strange, the album is both a sprawling folk experiment and a comforting collection of sound.
To best describe the album, the recording process for the fourth song, ‘Certainty’ sums up the loose spontaneity of their attitude to its creation. The Fleetwood Mac-esque hazy acoustic number was recorded via a cigarette lighter port powering a tape recorder, with bass through a Bluetooth speaker and finished in three takes. Apart from the static hum that begins the song it is hard to feel the ad hoc improvisation through the quality, except the situation clearly translates into Adrianne Lenker’s delivery of genuineness and raw emotion.
To demonstrate the variety of songs on Dragon in full-fledged country mode, listening to the song ‘Spud Infinity’ almost requires a cowboy hat and barn dance. The introduction featuring the fiddle and jaw harp is immediately playful with the addition of bouncing drums making it an upbeat bop. The lyrics feature by far the most comical moments on Dragon as Lenker sings with repetition and rhyme in a catchy flow. She speaks of garlic bread, extra-terrestrial aliens and kissing your own body ‘except for your elbows…they’re on their own’. It seems very random but the clever connections between the lines makes for a lyrically fun and captivating listen. The construction both lyrically and instrumentally truly showcases Big Thief’s ability to take the bizarre and make it a convincing and serious portrayal of their talent.
As a standout feature across Big Thief’s discography, Lenker’s lyrical poeticism and imagery comes through again on this album. One of the more stripped back tracks, ‘Simulation Swarm’ allows her lyrics to shine through to create the strongest song on the album. Effortlessly, her words glide along containing beautiful yet seemingly meaningless descriptions: “A relief, beckon deep blue, fettered in the magnet sun, eat the gun as it feeds you, spitting up the oxygen.” Buk Meek’s fluttering guitar and the minimalist drums are the perfect backdrop for her fluidity. As the song flourishes into chorus, the best of Big Thief is showcased with their consistent ability to produce melodically catchy hooks.
Listening to Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You is a soothing and at times a fun ride. The lengthy album provides space for Big Thief to successfully experiment with new sounds while reserving enough time for the subtle portrayal of their talent.
Words by Lucy Clark