by Molly Larson
Big Thief is an indie folk rock band composed of lead singer Adrianne Lenker, guitarist Buck Meek, bassist Max Oleartchik, and drummer James Krivchenia. The group has been prolific since their debut album Masterpiece in 2016 and has received growing acclaim in recent years — including three GRAMMY nominations and a 2021 performance at Gov Ball. Despite their new popularity and prevalence on coffee shop playlists, the group has stayed true to the experimental and raw emotionality of their work. Big Thief encapsulates this originality more intimately than ever before in their fifth studio album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You.
DNWMIBIY explores what it means to come back together. The album was created out of the band’s efforts to find out who they are and how they fit together after the isolation of COVID-19. The double LP consists of 20 songs recorded over five months in four different locations across the United States: upstate New York, Topanga Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, and Tucson, Arizona. The band describes the sessions on the album’s bandcamp page: “all 4 of these sessions, in their varied states of fidelity, style, and mood, when viewed together as one album seem to stand for a more honest, zoomed-out picture of lived experience than would be possible on a traditional, 12 song record.” The album is saturated with familiar feelings. At a glance, it conjures the feelings of a long journey — a cross-country roadtrip, the drive home from a hike, the sunset montage after a protagonist has learned something profoundly important. It feels warm, yet bittersweet. It feels like coming home knowing that the place to which you are returning has changed, but so have you. In listening deeper, each will find their own thread of sentimentality within the music.
The process of the five-month journey allowed Big Thief to be more experimental and explorative than ever. By creating in nature, they also created with nature, at one point even “recording the sounds of shattering icicles on the title track.” As a result, Lenker says, the track has “actually captured, or archived, energy of that ice in that winter in that point of the world.” Someone familiar with the setting in which the songs were created — the forest, canyon, mountains, or desert — will likely be able to feel the energy and essence of that place shine through on the tracks.
Many songs on the album are distinctly folk in genre and instrumentation, featuring the fiddle and twangy vocals. A standout song of the record, “Spud Infinity,” even highlights the mouth harp. Other tracks like “Simulation Swarm” provide more of the indie rock feeling that fans of popular past tracks like “Paul” or “Masterpiece” may be yearning for.
Overall, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You contains many tracks that stick with listeners — notably, the title track and the understated gem, “Promise is a Pendulum.” Big Thief has managed to create an experimental and varied album that still holds a cohesive atmosphere. Its 20 songs were painstakingly selected from 45 that the group recorded over those five months, with each member leaving behind many tracks they loved. Listeners will find themselves faced with a similar challenge as they select their favorites to ruminate on until the time comes for them to embark on a journey that demands the entire soundtrack.