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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024
The Observer

‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’: A double album that doesn’t feel like one

Makayla Hernandez I The O
Image sources: Tonspion

It’s no secret that I have a thing for double albums. For me, double albums generally represent bands at the height of their creative ambitions and displaying the best of their technical skills. This is why records like Clash’s “London Calling” and Swans’ “Soundtracks for the Blind” are some of my all-time favorites, not only because of their grand scale but also because they allow artists to write longer and more unconventional songs.

However, when I heard that Indie folk band Big Thief’s new LP would be a double album, I was skeptical at first, as I was never a huge fan of their music. I have memories of listening to their 2019 release “U.F.O.F.” and finding it rather dull, later jokingly describing it to my friends as “boring sleepy-time music.” For me, Big Thief followed too many of the tired Indie folk tropes popularized by the likes of Elliott Smith, Fleet Foxes or Sufjan Stevens but without their deep lyricism or technical virtuosity. Because of this, I began listening to this record expecting either another “U.F.O.F.” or some pretentious “Wall-esque” rock opera. Fortunately, the terribly titled “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” is anything but that.

Despite its long tracklist of 20 songs, the album clocks in at a modest 1 hour and 20 minutes, under the hour-and-a-half mark that seems to have become standard in the last decade. With most of the tracks being under 5 minutes long, this record’s pacing still feels snappy, even despite the slow tempo of many of the songs. The album also seems to lack a unifying concept or story. Instead, it appears as a collection of independent but catchy folk tunes that explore a variety of themes ranging from love and loss to hope and joy.

Sonically, “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” seems like an amalgamation of Big Thief’s previous two records. Most of the tracks contain the lo-fi indie sensibilities of “U.F.O.F.” — which are, themselves, reminiscent of Elliott Smith or Phoebe Bridgers’ early work — but they are interspersed with more upbeat indie-rock influenced songs akin to those in “Two Hands” (another previous Big Thief album). Big Thief also spends some tracks experimenting with other genres. Examples of such experimentation include the shoegaze/dream pop track “Little Things” or the use of a Cassio Drum machine in “Wake me up to drive.” The production here also varies dramatically, with some tracks like “Promise is a pendulum” incorporating the lo-fi folk aesthetics of their previous works while others like “No Reason” feature lush, reverb-drenched guitars and crisper production.

For me, the true strength of this album lies in its songwriting and lyrics. Frontwoman Adrianne Lenker has a true talent for writing both lyrics and melodies that sound both ethereal and intimate which are complemented by her reserved yet emotional singing style.

On the other hand, I feel that her high pitch, Sufjan Stevens-style delivery works better in some cases than others. In the title track, for example, her voice sounds breathy and weak, which I don’t particularly like. In other tracks like “Promise is a Pendulum,” her voice is mixed so high that it sounds almost like she’s whispering in my ear.

And like almost every double album, “Warm Mountain” does suffer from the occasional track that could’ve been trimmed out. Opening track “Change” is Big Thief at their blandest, and tracks like “Heavy Bend” and “Dried Rose” don’t add much to the record.

Overall, though, I am impressed with this album, and while I wouldn’t say that it turned me into a Big Thief fan, I am keen to see how their sound develops going forward. I would certainly consider “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” as a contender for album of the year.

Artist: Big Thief

Album: “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You”

Label: 4AD

Favorite tracks: Simulation Swarm, Certainty, Little Things

If you like: Sufjan Stevens, Elliott Smith, Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5