Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
Feb 14, 2022 (updated Feb 15, 2022)
85
EDIT: After subsequent listens, I’m changing the score from an 87 to a 90. Every song I initially loved in my original review are honestly becoming 10/10 tracks, and the songs that I initially found to be drab, such as Certainty and Sparrow, have grown into some of the catchiest, most emotive cuts on the record. Additionally, songs I didn’t give a verbal shout out to initially e.g. Blue Lightening have all started to shine in their own way. Without a doubt, this album is only getting better with every listen.

Kid named dragon new warm mountain: ๐Ÿฅฐ

Minstrel song slumbered on the spirals of embers skittering from the campfire, enveloping quiescent faces with a phosphorescent sheen. The flames that lingered so treacherously looked like Tangerine apparitions laced with ardent warmth under the evening repose. Hushed were the voices of the common folk, and attentive were the ears as cozy cadencies and heart strumming strings caressed the lobes. The people languished liquor on their tongues under the shandy sunset, vermillion vespers filled with the voice of music. Evaporating, the hardships of the day burned away like the woodwork, and souls became kindred; a sentimental yodel rung through the silent countryside, a uniting euphony that comforted and contemplated, quietened and mystified. Suddenly, the darkening pastures morphed into something not dangerous, but devout with iridescent shades, Chinese whispers that murmured different harmonies in every ear. As the marmalade sky began to blush at the arrival of day rest before shyly giving into the gloaming, the tremolo of a guitar started to harness the luminary glow. The mood shifted with the day, and philosopher thoughts scintillated like the melodies drifting through the air. And at once, all the crestfallen feelings, the bitterness, the rage, everything bad, absconded into the night, exorcised from the tortured souls around the campfire.

The power of folk music should never be underestimated. A relatively enigmatic folk artist I’d like to draw attention to is David Kauffman, who in 1984 collaborated with fellow artist Eric Caboor for the underrated gem “Songs From Suicide Bridge”, a gloomy, Stygian set of songs befogged by obscurity and rendered Caliginous by it’s tragic theming; never had, and never has since, folk music been so vulnerable, vividly exploring depression and suicide with darkly luscious soundscapes that shimmered and glowed so modestly that very few took notice. It’s a brilliantly emotive folk album that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys the simpler melodies and harmonies music has to offer, for it’s a listen that radiates an inexplicable comfort. When talking about the album, David Kauffman claimed that him and Eric Caboor wrote these songs which those that listen found depressing, but to him they were hopeful. Ever since, David Kauffman had remained a low profile artist, using the curative effects of music to create records that trigger spiritual healing. One particular example is his 2009 project “Twelve Step Healing Songs for women in recovery”, a sparkling set of songs dedicated to, well, healing. For Kauffman believed that music could act as a form of therapy, a belief which is built upon a large and fascinating body of scientific research which is absolutely worth the read if you are interested. Ultimately, this is the Chiaroscuro of Songs From Suicide Bridge, and by extension folk music as a whole; there’s a lot of shade that can bemoan, but a lot of light that can uplift.

Thus is the power of folk, a form of music that dazzles with undeniable resplendence on Big Thief’s Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, an eclectic double album of 20 songs from one of indie’s most prominent bands of the last ten years. Over the course of their career, Big Thief have only continued to master their craft, improving their song writing and becoming more ambitious with every release, but it’s with Dragon New Warm Mountain that I feel that the band have finally unlocked all their burgeoning potential. Recorded during the pandemic with the songs taken mainly from singer Adrianne Lenker’s songwriting notes, the band merely allowed their creativity and passion to guide them, a love for their craft that you can hear gyrate through every guitar pluck. As a result, Big Thief have created what will undoubtedly contender for folk album of the year.

Despite the rudimentary instrumentation and personal lyricism, writing beautiful folk music is much harder than it may seem, for a variety of reasons. For one, simplicity can be the biggest adversary of creativity; since folk thrives on it’s raw vocals, minimalist instrumentation and limited production, less is often more. It’s for this reason that crafting something texturally dense and instrumentally varied can ultimately be detrimental to the charm of folk music, as it distracts from the fundamentals that characterise it. Another difficulty arises from the conundrum of originality, as folk takes exceptional creativity to mould into something genuinely unique, especially since it’s one of the oldest genres of music out there. Artists like Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, Nico, Elliott Smith, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Microphones, Mount Eerie and Sufjan Stephens have all put out classic albums that all boast their own unique quirks and subtle nuances that render them standouts of the genre. In other words, the more time that elapses, the less original ideas you’ll be able to conceive and the harder it becomes to stand out. Thankfully, there is a wealth of mediocre country music saturating the current music scene, so despite these obstacles there is a chance for great music to shine.

And shine Dragon New Warm Mountain does, because Big Thief manage to boardwalk across the line between harnessing the minimalist qualities of folk music whilst experimenting enough with production and instrumentation to create an album that absolutely holds it’s own. Dragon New Warm Mountain is an album that evokes that curative appeal I discussed earlier, subtly weaving in the capacity to comfort and quell the worries of the listener with some truly lush songs. Even more impressively, across its 80 minute runtime, the band manages to, for the most part, surprise and delight throughout its entirety, conjuring up twenty songs which all range from at worst decent to at best dazzling. Take the title track, a song which is seasoned with enamouring icicle cracks sparse acoustic whispers that buzz under Lenker’s dulcet, inspiring vocals. It all culminates in five minutes of glacial, cold folk music that feels perfect for a car journey through the rural country side.

Another song I’m absolutely flawed by is Time Escaping, one of the singles of the record which orchestrates a percussive felicity, leaning towards sound collage and sweeping vocals to evoke a noisily elated appeal. I particularly love Lenker’s performance here, where her hook resounds through the scattered mix perfectly to help tie the surreal junkyard soundscape together. Spud Infinity is another highlight, drawing influences from Bluegrass and borrowing a jaw harp played by Lenker’s brother. It sounds rather confectionery for a folk song, and yet Lenker’s earnest performance cruises over the instrumentation like a jeep hurtling through the wilderness on a safari.

Meanwhile, Little Things features these jangly guitars that sound inspired by Alice in Chains’ Jar of Flies EP, a collection of songs that flirted with folk music. And since this EP is one of my favourite EPSs of all time, this is absolutely a great thing. Little Things is a dainty little number that harnesses the wistful wonder of the wilderness, evoking the image of a child discovering the world for the first time. The song’s lyrics are simply beautiful, focussing on the smaller things in life. Ultimately, the lyrics feel like a complete summation of Big Thief’s discography, which mainly consists of songs simply about moments in life. Indeed, if I was to describe Dragon New Warm Mountain in a few words, I’d say it’s a record compiling a collage of beautiful, entirely human moments that are profound and relatable, and then patched together in a soul healing, optimistic concept. Dragon New Warm Mountain is far from the first album to explore life, and not even the first one to liken the journey of life to a mountain, but the teeming joy and versatile beauty on display throughout these songs is nothing short of spellbinding, even if the tracklisting feels bloated at times.

For example, whilst the tale of an uncertain love is relatable and engaging on Certainty, the instrumentation and performance nevertheless feels very by the numbers for folk music standards. Sparrow falls into a similar issue, though Lenker’s impassioned croons manage to salvage the more derivative guitar passages of the track.

Thankfully, however, there are more hits on Dragon New Warm Mountain than flops, one of which being Flower of Blood, a song that feels like folk music flirting with some Shoegaze influences with the distorted guitars. It manages to remain tranquil and captivating throughout it’s runtime, and is easily a favourite of mine. No Reason is yet another favourite, featuring weeping acoustic guitar melodies that sound borrowed from a song on Arcade Fire’s Funeral. Furthermore, the crunching percussion, head bopping finger clicks and lingering flute are subtle additions, but inclusions that nevertheless go so far as to allowing No Reason to stand out amongst the grandiose track listing.

The final song I want to verbally shout out is Simulation Swarm, which might just have the more dulcet soundscape on the entire album, and some of Lenker’s sweetest vocals. The crisp drums add a sense of flow to the song, like memories and events flowing through the mind in conjunction with the stream of time. A more general compliment I can give to Dragon New Warm Mountain is it’s lyricism, but it’s specifically on Simulation Swarm where it shines the most. Every song on Dragon New Warm Mountain unravels like descriptions in a story, painting a vivid picture of the scenery and evoking these abstracted thoughts and concepts.

In conclusion, Dragon New Warm Mountain has it’s drab moments. There are tracks that don’t feel fleshed out enough (heavy bend, Dried Roses) and tracks that feel a little too rudimentary (Certainty, Sparrow), and the overall concept tying all these songs together is loose at best. However, where it lacks in specific instances it makes up for in broad abundance, serving eighty minutes worth of songs with the variety of an all you can eat buffet. With so much to digest, double albums can often feel daunting, but Dragon New Warm Mountain is one of those rare cases where a Double Album feels titillating; with every listen, I feel as if I’m unravelling more and more of this album’s surrealism, discovering more and more small, meticulous details that serve to make my jaw hit the flaw in sheer wonder.

Thank you Big Thief, you are certainly a band worth believing in.

6 Comments
4mo
Requesting anybody who has any ideas as to how I can improve my reviews to change to comment constructive criticisms
4mo
i love your reviews and they're at least ten times as good as mine but if i HAD to give you constructive criticism i would advise you to leave a sentence-gap between every three or four lines which might make reviews way easier to read
4mo
@TomBejoy thanks bro! Yeah I have a tendency to make my sentences very fucking long lmao, will absolutely take this on board. Also, please don’t put yourself down, your Glitch Princess review is one of my favourites reviews I’ve read this year :)
4mo
I like putting myself down because I hate myself in general ๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ˜ฉ
4mo
@TomBejoy alright here’s what we’re gonna do:
1. You stand in front of the mirror
2. I’ll fire a Cupid Arrow
3. Self love achieved ๐Ÿ˜ฉ๐Ÿ˜ฉ
4mo
knowing me the arrow will probably pierce through my insides and kill me c๐Ÿ˜‡
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