Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is an album as unusually long as its own name. Although the record sits at a hefty 20 songs and has a run time of an hour and 20 minutes, the newest album of up-and-coming indie folk band Big Thief does not feel remotely bloated. The band’s fourth album has a healthy mix of experimentation and the group’s tried and true sounds, its most distinguishing feature being lead singer-songwriter Adrianne Lenker’s beautiful and unique voice.
The instrumentation on the project has a good amount of variety. A majority of the songs make use of the abilities of modern production, which accentuates the country and rock-leaning songs and encourages listeners to appreciate the unplugged influences of indie-folk.
“Spud Infinity” is a nice example of the modern folk side of things. The chugging train drum beat, country violin, and boinging jaw harp pleasantly hold down the traditional folk aspect while the subtle, modulating keyboard notes and whistles give the song some modernity and fullness.
Lyrically, “Spud Infinity” is a good representation of many of the album’s themes. The lines, “The past was not a history book / That was just some linear perception,” acknowledge the illusion of the human perception of time, but are also surrounded by silly quips like, “A dime a dozen aren’t we just? / But a dozen times will buy a crust of garlic bread.” This conglomeration reflects Lenker’s carefree, absurdist attitude in the face of the incomprehensibility of life. Lenker’s lyrics and voice make her appreciation of the little things in life sound genuine, deep, and caring.
That feeling is also present in the fun, country-like “Red Moon,” as well as the album’s calm and melancholic drumless tracks, such as “The Only Place” and “Dried Roses.” Lenker’s exploration of the mysteries of time always comes back to the human-centered conclusion that we must be aware and thankful of our existence. This attitude is especially present in the soothing “No Reasoning” and the manic, trippy “Time Escaping.”
Lenker’s ability and tendency to express complex metaphysical concepts about time and to translate them into an emotional, human perspective in so many songs puts Big Thief a cut above other folk music writers, as well as the vast majority of contemporary lyricists across all genres.
In “Certainty,” for example, she speaks about a future experience of her lover sleeping beside her on a plane with the same mix of melancholic love one would only expect from someone reminiscing on the past. The TK sounds in “Simulation Swarm” add to the overwhelming mix of joy and sadness that Lenker gets by imagining a timeline in which she grows up and bonds with her older brother, who was given up for adoption as a baby. The way she speaks about it sounds like she feels it is still a possibility. Few writers are able to convey such a complicated concept in a way that feels natural and passionate.
Almost every song has an amazing, intangible quality of scratching a deep inner ear itch. This seems to be a product of Lenker’s beautiful voice and the band’s overall great production. Lenker’s voice and the instrumentation tend to synergize in a way that brings an astonishing feeling of comfort when listening, especially on “Blue Lightning” and the title track. Even the more wistful “Change” and “12,000 lines,” however, share this indomitable feeling of warmth and comfort. Her singing voice is also characterized by strategic restraint — she does not overuse her technical skills, only employing harmonies, vibrato, and great range when necessary. When she does use them, it is to great effect.
The wild variety in style of songs indicates that the band is still experimenting with their sound, which implies that some duds will be inevitable. Though the fuzziness of “Love Love Love” and “Wake Me Up to Drive” may help to bring Lenker closer to the listener, their discordant sound makes for a less pleasant listen. “Flower of Blood” and “Sparrow” both have some tremendously uncomfy lyrics, which have their place in art but stick out like sore thumbs in the context of this album. The latter of the two tracks is also a horribly repetitive slow burn.
All things considered, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is a brilliant record. A mixed bag of envelope-pushing experimentation and plain good songs, the album is great for a casual listen or a deep introspection session. The musings, questions, and observations on the album make it feel like a journey companion for the wild experience that is life.