Big Thief
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You


3.8
excellent

Review

by Rowan5215 STAFF
February 12th, 2022 | 1176 replies


Release Date: 2022 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Indie rock luminaries release the definitive anti-statement.

If there's any band fully primed to release a year-dominating, career-summising, discourse-creating double album of their signature brand of raw, vibified indie rock, it's Big Thief. It's hard to think of another band in the game who've earned the cultural capital and goodwill - through years of hard work, sheer consistency and critical acclaim - to ask fans to buy in on an album like Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, with its hefty ante and unclear payoff to those still skeptical of Big Thief's distinctive charms. This 80+ minutes of music should have been an ambitious but consistent song cycle, a neatly tied bow on Big Thief's career thus far, cementing them as indie rock luminaries well on their way to a legendary legacy. What a relief, in a way, that it's not any of that. Instead, a doubling down on their unapologetically weirdest influences; instead, a scattershot sampling of basically every sound they can conjure, recorded in every different way. The only thing Dragon... cements is that nothing about Big Thief is set in stone, which is in its own way an absolutely remarkable achievement.

Any album that can be divided into quarters of EP length is a behemoth, but this one goes the extra step of specifically presenting itself as a four-quadrant experience. Comprised of four sides, five tracks each, which we're told in the Bandcamp press release were recorded in four different recording sessions, each yielding a drastically different style. (In summary: a warmup recorded to 8-track which produced some earthy acoustic numbers; an experimental diversion in Topanga Canyon with the studio-savvy Shawn Everett which led to the album's strangest art-rock cuts; a return to the relative normalcy of Dom Monks, engineer behind U.F.O.F/Two Hands, up in the Rockies; and a finishing stretch at a home studio in Tucson where the band invited Mat Davidson to contribute, adding fiddle and vocals to some truly yeehaw-ified country joints.) Squint hard enough and you might even start to wonder if the unwieldy marathon of a title – again, deep breath, that's Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You – can be sliced into four for some hidden meanings. That's a lot of ground to cover just to meet an album in the middle, but Big Thief are gloriously unconcerned. They sound like they're having the time of their collective lives, whether dipping into some "Climbing Up the Walls" territory on the truly creepy "Blurred View" or orchestrating a fiddle breakdown while Adrianne Lenker hollers "that's my grandma!" on the wholesome but thin "Red Moon".

Is listening to the album in its entirety as fun as it must have been making it? Your mileage will vary on that point, even moreso than on past Big Thief albums, on which there seems to be no consensus best or worst, simply because Dragon... presents so much music in so many styles that the hitrate for everyone listening is bound to be all over the place. The unbelievably lovely title track, tripped-out "Flower of Blood", foot-tapping mover "Simulation Swarm" and Elliott Smith-esque "The Only Place" are without a doubt among Big Thief's finest work. They also have no reason to share an album even with one another, let alone the grating guitar clunker "Love Love Love" or the forgettable ditty "12,000 Miles". On occasion the ambitious production experiment absolutely shines, whether the gorgeously layered psychedelic backing on "Little Things" or the sound of actual icicles lending a borderline mystical quality to "Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You"; and sometimes potentially great songs are just kneecapped, on the infuriatingly undercooked "Wake Me Up to Drive" or to too-goofy-by-half "Spud Infinity".

But that's the thing: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You plainly isn't trying to form cohesion out of chaos, or orchestrate some easily accessible line of best fit with its sequencing. Instead it seems to argue 'these songs were made by these people, in these spaces over this amount of time, and that's all the common bond they need'. You could arguably listen to it on shuffle and stumble on just as many magical moments as in the album-as-released, like that golden run from "Little Things" to "Blurred View" where the album's experimentation and naked emotional appeal seem to simultaneously peak. Big Thief, frankly, seem to be asking the audience to disregard the idea of an album entirely.

It's one hell of a strategy. Personally, I can't co-sign on Dragon... as an instant, all-time classic the way it's tempting to do. I don't even think it tops their still-masterpiece, the astonishing Two Hands, in terms of overall hit rate and emotional gutpunches. But fuck, man, that's just me: reviewing this album at all feels like a sucker's game, when the unquantifiable chemistry between a person and the music they hear is more vital than on most other albums. But there is one thing about this I know I'll always love. The capital-G Great double albums are always maximalist, bold-font statements of intent, encompassing everything that band are and ever will be. Dragon... is worlds apart from this concept: it actually feels intended to destroy our idea of what Big Thief is instead of defining it. And maybe that's the clean slate this band needed to become what they truly are: indefinable, inexplicable, completely brilliant, utterly frustrating; and above and through all of that, absolute masters of their craft.



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user ratings (372)
4
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2022


47787 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

I apologise for not being blush (an ongoing problem I have; it's getting quite tiresome) but took a swing anyway. Flower of Blood rules.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2022


61291 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I TELL U THAT I NEED UR (uh) LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE

>>>that golden run from "Little Things" to "Blurred View"

yh

>>>their still-masterpiece, the astonishing Two Hands

lmfao no

good rev

DoofDoof
February 12th 2022


15477 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Still think album would be too self serious and daunting without Spud at track three but think I'm on my own with this one



Top 4 right now: Spud, T/T, Simulation, Pendulum

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2022


19035 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

good review bad album

Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2022


18258 Comments


Very sweet review : ]

DoofDoof
February 12th 2022


15477 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Does still remind me of 'Tusk' in that that album also made use of 'you know you're allowed to have fun?' tracks to break up the listen and stop it all being wall to wall heavy emotional tunes like 'Sara', 'Storm', 'Beautiful Child' or the boatload of experimental stuff.



There you had 'The Ledge' coming early on, then 'That's Enough for Me'. Here you have 'Spud' and 'Red Moon'. It works for me, def some parallels - equally great albums too.

theBoneyKing
February 12th 2022


24571 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Diving into this now, will report

DoofDoof
February 12th 2022


15477 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Boney, you'll love, it's definitely their most country - I'd probably classify 6 or 7 of these as primarily country/alt country



It also has as many great Lenker solo or solo'ish folk songs here as her last solo album near enough.



It also has enough truly great more indie'ish or more experimental tracks that you could strip out all the above and form a 12 song album to equal U.F.O.F at a similar game.



It's a monster.

theBoneyKing
February 12th 2022


24571 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Only a few tracks in but I’m getting big Gillian Welch vibes here - in fact I feel Adrianne is really taking up her mantle.

DoofDoof
February 12th 2022


15477 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

She has the authento-country and folk chops, Lenker is a real talent, I mean the unadorned 5 minute 'Pendulum' is absolutely mesmerising and it's just her and guitar again surrounded by a lot of more instantly flashy material.

theBoneyKing
February 12th 2022


24571 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Listening to “Certainty” and you have the Lenker/Meek harmonies - yup, they’re definitely this generation’s Welch/Rawlings. Can’t believe I didn’t make that connection before now.

Sowing
Moderator
February 12th 2022


44143 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

good review bad better album

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2022


6035 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

Awesome review Rowan!



Made me grin that right when you started talking about how this is an album where everyone will have different favorites, you mention 12,000 Miles as a "forgettable ditty", and that's one of my top tunes after my first few listens.

theBoneyKing
February 12th 2022


24571 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

“Heavy Bend” is really cool



Also if we’re talking double albums I’m getting some Wilco - Being There from this too.

theBoneyKing
February 12th 2022


24571 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Doof you were right about Pendulum, that one’s magical

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2022


6035 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

Would you live forever, never die



While everything around passes

theBoneyKing
February 12th 2022


24571 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Omg, “The Only Place,” holy shit, maybe my favorite

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2022


61291 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

re. album quarters, I'm feeling 2>>>4>>>>>>>>1>3 maybe

theBoneyKing
February 12th 2022


24571 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

So yeah this is wonderful

Pikazilla
February 12th 2022


30477 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Quarter 2 is the best while 1 and 3 are the worst, yeah - agree with you there, Johnny



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