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Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You Music Album Reviews

Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You Music Album Reviews
Big Thief’s ambitious yet unburdened fifth album is a 20-song epic of kaleidoscopic invention, striking beauty, and wigged-out humor, rambling far beyond the bounds of their previous work.

“What should we do now?” someone asks off-mic at the end of Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You. “Blue Lightning,” the last song, has just ended, its homey folk-rock atmosphere made briefly uncanny by the entrance of cheap synthetic brass in the final minute, punching out a two-note fanfare that an ordinary band would have assigned to an actual horn section. The speaker—presumably one of the three men in Big Thief who orbit singer-guitarist Adrianne Lenker—sounds dazed but satisfied. Clearly, they have nailed the take. So what next?

As punctuation for Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, an album as gleefully overstuffed as its title, this moment of studio chatter feels deliberate despite its offhandedness. In 20 songs, Big Thief have rambled far beyond the bounds of their previous catalog. There is trip-hop that flickers like busted neon and a couple of country tunes so saturated with fiddle and close harmony that they seem at first like jokes. You might check the liner notes to divine the source of the strangely expressive clicking you hear in the background of a particular instrumental passage and find that someone has been credited with playing icicles.

Lenker’s subject matter, stated as briefly as possible, is everything: internet signals and falling leaves, vape pens and wild hairdos, the wounds we inflict on the planet and each other, the Book of Genesis, the mystery of consciousness, and yes, the humble potato. Dragon is as heavy in its lyrical concerns as any previous Big Thief record, and more ambitious in its musical ideas than all of them. But it also sounds unburdened, animated by a newfound sense of childlike exploration and play. Twenty times, it asks “What should we do now?”, and twenty times it finds a new answer.

By design, Dragon lacks the near-perfect holism of U.F.O.F. and Two Hands, Big Thief’s twin 2019 achievements, records with compact tracklists and particular aims, one eerie and diffuse, the other gritty and earthbound. Recorded in four locations across the U.S. over the course of several months, it feels more like Big Thief’s Tusk, or White Album, or Wowee Zowee: a sprawling statement with little concern for outward cohesion, offering some combination of kaleidoscopic invention, striking beauty, and wigged-out humor at any given moment, but not a particularly clear path from one song to the next. Like those albums, it seems destined to become the favorite for a cult of hardcore fans, while inspiring others to wonder how someone could ride so hard for stuff like “Piggies.”

Or, in this case, stuff like “Spud Infinity,” a song that arrives early to unfurl Big Thief’s freak flag once and for all. Complementing the aforementioned fiddle and down-home harmony vocals—from Twain’s Mat Davidson, who appears on several songs—is the unmistakable boing of a jaw harp, boinging jubilantly and relentlessly, blissfully and diabolically, on every last beat. The cumulative effect is something like a full-band version of the goofy southern accent Mick Jagger puts on when he sings country songs, which seems, for him, like a way of putting genre in quotation marks, signaling his awareness of his own inauthenticity by amplifying the hokiest parts of the put-on. Though Big Thief have taken many approaches to their music over the years, this sort of winking magpie postmodernism has not been one of them, so it’s strange to hear them leaning into a schtick.

But the longer you sit with “Spud Infinity,” and “Red Moon,” its closest counterpart, the less their hillbilly trappings come across like winks. The settings seem to have a liberating effect on Lenker’s relationship to language, giving her access to a conversational new register where quotidian details reflect the big picture in miniature, and silliness is a route to profundity. In the third verse of “Spud Infinity,” she rhymes “finish” with “knish” and laments human inability to kiss our own elbows, joints that spend their time “rubbing up against the edges of experience.” The song’s good-natured stroll from the dirt to the cosmos recalls John Prine or Michael Hurley, songwriters whose breezy humor has never previously worked its way into Big Thief’s music.

Even when the band is hamming it up, their ensemble playing is quietly spectacular, with drummer James Krivchenia rising and falling to meet Lenker’s turns of phrase, and guitarist Buck Meek and bassist Max Oleartchik scribbling countermelodies at the edges of her strumming. Though they seem determined to find a different way to organize themselves as a band with nearly every song, this conversational weaving of their instruments holds the album together at an intuitive level across its wild leaps.

“Flower of Blood,” with pirouettes of feedback from Lenker and Meek’s guitars, and a lyric that blurs violence and intimacy in classic Big Thief fashion, might have fit in on Two Hands if not for its production, with drums filtered to sound like sampled breakbeats playing over a massive PA. There’s an intoxicating dissonance between the song’s internal heat and the sound’s steely distance, one that Big Thief might have successfully nurtured across the length of an entire album rather than this single track. “Heavy Bend” and “Blurred View,” its neighbors on the tracklist, take its gestures at electronic music even further. The former, setting a harplike arpeggiated figure from Lenker’s nylon-string guitar to patiently looping shakers and snare, reminds me of Four Tet’s meditative beat music. The latter, claustrophobic and menacing, initially resembles Portishead but soon finds its own wavelength. “One step closer and I’m real/Tell me everything you feel/And I will sing for you,” Lenker intones near a whisper; the harmonies ascend for a moment, then plummet back into darkness.

The hoedown of “Red Moon” is next, and if you’re listening digitally, the transition comes with comical quickness: It’s hard to imagine how a pair of songs by the same band could be more divergent than these two. Dragon seems particularly well-suited to the double-LP format, which necessitates a break between them, with “Blurred View” closing the first disc and “Red Moon” opening the second. The individual sides can be plenty scatterbrained on their own, but there is an obscure order to the tracklist’s organization. The bittersweet simplicity of “Change,” which opens the album, is reflected in “12,000 Lines,” which opens its final side. The sweeping stillness of the title track, at the end of side one, signals a close to the beatific opening stretch, and the side-two opener “Sparrow,” a baleful retelling of the Adam and Eve story, hints at darkness to come.

Lenker spoke in a recent interview with Pitchfork about learning to be “more fearless” in her writing: “more confident in myself and less worried about…how people will receive something.” Her heightened willingness to follow her impulses is evident throughout Dragon. At one point in “Sparrow,” she ends four successive lines with “apple,” an audacious disruption of her own rhyme scheme, unsettling your expectations and building tension toward a climax in which Adam rolls Eve under the bus: “She has the poison inside her/She talks to snakes and they guide her.” Her bailiwick as a writer has extended in two directions, reaching toward cosmic-religious significance on one side and unadorned observation on the other. “Sit on the phone/Watch TV/Romance, action, mystery,” she sings on “Certainty,” making the experience of unfocused screen time sound as timeless and universal as a sunset.

If Lenker has a central preoccupation on Dragon, it is the way these high and low poles of experience coexist and inform each other: the way an unassuming bunch of weeds can give you a flickering glimpse of the interconnectivity of all things, or a moment of heartbreak might be inexplicably magnified by the sudden apprehension of houseflies on the ceiling. Which is another way of saying that her great subject, as always, is love. What could be more profound, or more ordinary? “Change,” for its first two thirds, is concerned with elemental things: wind and water, life and death. Then something hard and tactile interrupts its litany of abysses: “Death/Like space/The deep sea/A suitcase.” A suitcase? From this germ grows a story about a departing lover, until Lenker is no longer asking about dying, but questions that may be even more painful: “Could I feel happy for you/When I hear you talk with her like we used to?/Could I set everything free/When I watch you holding her the way you once held me?”

“The Only Place,” the album’s penultimate song, is among the most beautiful in Big Thief’s discography. Lenker is alone at the acoustic guitar, fingerpicking with such astonishing dexterity that the weight of her words might escape you at first. After an album that has probed at loss and acceptance from every available angle, here is her vision of the apocalypse, presented as plainly as possible. “When all material scatters/And ashes amplify,” she sings, sounding unperturbed by her impending doom. “The only place that matters/Is by your side.”

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You Music Album Reviews Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, February 17, 2022 Rating: 5

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