LABEL : 4AD
ALBUM IN A SENTENCE : The Big Thief album where everything, even the most unexpected experiments, land in alignment.
Maybe, maybe the special thing about Big Thief is the band’s talent for drawing everything into moments of alignment. Big Thief songs can be like a cloudbreak in the country when shafts of sunlight puncture through a valley. They can be like the moment at the top of a rollercoaster when the momentum of the carriage lifts your heart and stomach and you know the thrill of the plunge is coming.
In some ways, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is one of those albums; a White Album, Sandinista, Wowee Zowee or Blonde on Blonde for our decade. It covers the ground that previous Big Thief albums have mastered, shimmering, initimate acoustic folk and gutsy, unassuming axe-hero alt rock; but Dragon expands into shoegaze, goth pop, trip hop and a Dylan-esque flavour of traditional country. There are flute solos and drum machines. What makes Dragon different though is that whereas those other albums have a quality of trying, pushing for new ground, Dragon is an 80-minute moment when everything aligns for Big Thief. Even the tracks that feel like the biggest risks flow. Everything flows, like a delta to the sea.
In evidence of this, consider ‘Spud Infinity’. ‘Spud Infinity’ is the track that is the clue that Big Thief are not repeating on Dragon. The track kicks in with an introduction that centres guests Mat Davidson’s fiddle and Noah Lenker’s jaw harp. Adrienne Lenker’s vocals twang and on the chorus are cousin and kin of yodelling. The lyrics have a Dylan-esque pastiche quality. ‘Finish’ rhymes with ‘Potato Kinish’, there is ‘a crust of garlic bread’ and reference to elbows being ‘like a rolling stone’. The song has time for a marching band snare solo from James Krivchenia before landing on a hoe down finale.
That’s a long enough rap sheet to unthinkingly file ‘Spud Infinity’ next to ‘Rocky Raccoon’ as a piece of disposably daft kitsch indulgence. However, it’s just not that. Inside the goofy shell of this song, Adrienne Lenker inverts ‘Spud Infinity’s place to the centre of everything that Dragon, and perhaps Big Thief, are about. Two lyrics stand out. ‘Spud Infinity’ is about ‘accepting the alien you’ve rejected in your own heart’, and insisting that ‘when I say infinity, I mean now. Kiss the one you are right now!’ Those, reader, are lyrics!
When I hear those lyrics, the musical choices that shape ‘Spud Infinity’ make total sense. Wrestling with the combination of the choices that make you unique and the social conventions you cannot ignore even as they alienate, only being able to meet yourself in the present while the past and the future are trying to conduct hostile takeovers, it makes sense to deal in reinterpreting traditional genres. In the absurdity of it all, why not make jokes and references.
In a recent interview, Adrienne Lenker said, “I think we’re starting to give ourselves more and more permission to bring all aspects of ourselves to the table of what Big Thief is.” Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is the sound of Big Thief believing in themselves, confident and comfortable enough to embrace their contradictions, their inner aliens.