ALBUM REVIEW: Big Thief, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
Updated: Feb 22, 2022
The term “cinematic” is often applied to music, and for the most part, it is an adjective to describe something serene, or extremely detailed. Maybe the new Billie Eilish album seems “cinematic” based purely on how the violins swell or the bass bumps, it puts you in a place and time. Rarely does this term also pertain to the length of the project that houses this music, unless we’re talking about the new Big Thief album. At a daunting one hour and 20 minutes, I was downright intimidated to try to listen to it, never mind cover it. Yet, as I continued to try and claw my way up the side of Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe You, I began to appreciate it more and more. I have listened to all the singles for this, and the album twice in a row, and can confidently say that the journey is worth the end result. Pack a warm sleeping bag, some canned food, a small propane torch, and some hiking boots; to make your way to the peak. This is the best album of 2022 thus far.
It feels so good to have all these A’s! After the onslaught of very good music in January, I assumed it’d be B’s until at least the springtime. With yeule dropping a cybernetic pop statement last week and Big Thief coming through with this feature-length nature and life documentary, I have great hope that this will be one of the most consequential years in music since the mid-aughts. I’ll start the review of the actual content with a small aside. On Friday, I had an interesting conversation with a friend about this record. He said “it just wasn’t for me, plus when I saw the length of the record, I couldn’t get past the first couple of songs” he continued “bands need to just lower it down to the best 10 or 12 songs, and call it a day.” While I respected his opinion, I hadn’t listened to it yet, and told him “don’t be surprised if Anti gives it a Standout Album.” …and now here we are! While I still mostly agree with his point of view, this album has nearly no skips. Out of 20 songs, I could do without 3. “Blurred View” is a little too opaque and lowkey to be bothered with, “Dried Roses” and “Love Love Love” seemed like a retread of old and boring territory. Everything else is varying degrees of awesome.
The band completely swerves the trap that Foxygen fell down years ago with …And Star Power by always having fleshed out material on hand. While that record was filled with 2-minute detours and terribly written, rushed ballads in order to fill a film’s length, Big Thief is as economical as they’ve ever been. The music on DNWMIBY takes a fresh approach to the timeless folk-rock sound by trying something brand new with each song. “Change” introduces everybody in the band one by one, focusing heavily on Adrienne’s poetic lyrics that lead the charm forward. “Death, like a door to a place we’ve never been before / Would you live forever never die / While everything around passes…” she questions the audience, not looking for a particular answer. The song is very philosophical in that way, allowing the listener to determine their own path. The following “Time Escaping”, by comparison, channels more of its energy into metallic percussion sounds and frantic, rusty acoustic guitars. The songs are like scenes, with each of them having their own distinct set design.
“Spud Infinity” similarly has a quirky tone to it, really embodying the Splash Mountain-adjacent vibes that are brought by the anthropomorphic characters on the cover. Folk music doesn’t just have to be boringly read stanzas over acoustic guitars, it can open up a whole new world of discovery for people. There are other cuts on here like the title track or “Flower of Blood” that seek to convey gothic qualities and foggy valleys, it’s not all sweet either. On cuts like these, lap steels, synths, acoustic guitars, and other instruments just fade into one another, like shoegaze folk. And yet, we get some very straightforward rock songwriting as on “Little Things” or “No Reason”. “Promise Is A Pendulum” and “The Only Place” are tear- jerking, acoustic centric asides that question the ideas of faith and existence. The record has a lot of genres, emotions, impressive soloing, and structures up its sleeve that seamlessly flow into each other without issue. “Wake Me up to Drive” reminds me of something off Mitski’s Puberty 2, a machine-drum backed folk pop song with thoughtful lyrics like “Wake me up to drive / Even if I’m tired / I don’t wanna miss a ride.” “Simulation Swarm” was one of the best singles, a jammy reflective look back at youth, a place where parents looked like giants. “Sparrow” goes biblical, bringing the symbolic apple of original sin into modern times.
Once the album got to the drab “Blurred View”, I really thought that it was headed down a bad path. I anticipated there to be this real indulgent quality to it all, without much in the way of taste. Oversaturation is what I was afraid of, mostly, but, thankfully, the gorgeous “No Reason” really puts it all back on track. Just when you think that they’ve played every instrument under the sun over their expansive discography, a jazz flute pops up and…it just works. Over the course of a movie’s length, the foursome come together and bring everything they have. There’s dueting, high flying solos, rhythmic chemistry, poetry, and most importantly, 17 masterful songs that see the group still eager to face new challenges. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe You is their opus, without a doubt. Submit it to Cannes!