Big Thief’s latest is yet another impressively cogent, boundary-shattering work from indie rock’s preeminent musicians.
After double-dipping in 2019 with U.F.O.F. and Two Hands, Big Thief is again delivering plenty of material in 2022, this time with their fifth full-length record, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, a sprawling 80-minute double album recorded in four separate studios across the country. Immediately, it seems these varied collaborations have coaxed the band into their most philosophical posture yet lyrically, contemplating nothing less than life, love, and existence as we know it. The result is a richly textured work that adds to the panoply of great albums that Big Thief has made, both as solo artists and as a group.
The group’s latest is distinctive for the sounds peppered throughout, some steeped in a traditional roots perspective, while other segments opt for the softer acoustic texture that has marked Adrianne Lenker’s solo career up until this point; importantly, though, while she is the sole writer on the majority of the tracks here, Dragon feels like an altogether new creation, distinguished from her work as a solo artist. Some cuts from Lenker’s catalog, like “12,000 Lines” and “Simulation Swarm,” do appear, and have indeed been a part of Lenker’s solo tours for some time now, while “Spud Infinity” has been a live favorite both in full-band and solo form, but all of these are far more fleshed out on this LP than their previous iterations, live-tested so as to here become the most unimpeachable version. It’s a testament to the band’s recording process, seeking to perfect a track before performing live in the studio, unlike so many. And yet, despite the raw nature of their methodology, the tracks evidence a very clear, impressive polish.
What’s long impressed about Big Thief is not only the individual talents of its members, but the way their individual proclivities have so seamlessly gelled over the years, all the more notable for their relative youth as a band. It’s slightly disappointing, then, that Dragon sees this cohesion falter just a bit, with a few of the tracks feeling separated from the whole, likely due to the multi-studio/producer approach that was employed this time out. Still, this is a small gripe that only occasionally registers throughout, and feels particularly negligible when considering the massive runtime here, which impressively manages not to overstay its welcome. There’s a point on Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, sometime around “Little Things,” where the impression is of listening to a band already deemed great by history, their continued rise feeling meteoric; this isn’t the first time a Big Thief record has registered in this way, with much of their work registering like a greatest hits compilation in real-time. It’s this intangible that submits Dragon as a triumph, not only as a release that advances the natural progression of perhaps the defining stars of indie rock, but as an exercise in pure musicianship that understands and communicates the fluid boundaries of what rock can be. This is hardly the first time that Big Thief has succeeded on such a grand scale, and given the evidence, it’s tough to imagine it will be the last.
Published as part of Album Roundup — February 2022 | Part 1.