About half-way through the fourteenth track of Big Thief’s new album, as a distant drum machine plays a repeated rhythm, singer and primary songwriter Adrianne Lenker delivers two lines: ‘ We never plan ahead/We take the gamble on instead.’ ‘Wake Me Up To Drive’ is one of the more understated songs on Big Thief’s sprawling fifth album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You. It feels intimate, as though you’re listening to a voice note demo that somehow found its way onto the record. With the song feeling like a window into a softly-lit lazy afternoon, you could be forgiven for taking the lyrics at face value. A lack of planning, a momentary gamble. And yet, positioned where it is, after thirteen prior songs of grandiose scope and attention to detail, it feel like a stolen moment.
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is going to end up topping critics lists at the end of 2022. It is one of those defining albums for a band that cements their legacy. Big Thief have already released four beloved albums and yet this is likely to eclipse even those in levels of adoration. On internet forums and Discord chat, fans pore over every small detail in Lenker’s words. In the lead up to release, album highlight Simulation Swarm developed cult-like status on the back of two live performances, one solo, one band. Earlier this year, songs were drip fed, giving listeners something to tide them over. It’s been three years since Two Hands and yet so much has occurred it feels like another lifetime. The twenty songs here are the culmination of all the time spent writing and creating, yet nothing feels laboured nor overdone. Studio trickery is kept largely to a minimum. Opener ‘Change’ and country-heavy closer ‘Blue Lightning’ showcase the band at their live best with an energy and togetherness that only comes from time spent planning. This is a human record, covering loss, heartbreak, grief, separation and isolation – feelings undoubtedly we have all felt recently.
In the excellent ‘Flower of Blood’, Big Thief soar to heights unheard, with the reverb drenched guitars front and centre. It’s a crushing song, echoing the shimmers of My Bloody Valentine but still leaving space for Lenker to capture feelings in the simplest of words:
Mirror in the sky
Making me cry again
Roll up the sheets, suddenly frozen
Like a knife carving through my thick skin
A moment should be given to the heartbreaking ‘Dried Roses’, a song laden with the common images of life: black coffee, unmade beds, baking. At just over two minutes long it’s one of the shorter songs here and yet so deeply is it able to capture the melancholy of our recent existence that it feels as though it were written for us all.
About half-way through the fourteenth track of Big Thief’s new album, as a distant drum machine plays a repeated rhythm, singer and primary songwriter Adrianne Lenker delivers two lines: ‘ We never plan ahead/We take the gamble on instead.’ Moving into our collective futures it is nigh on impossible to plan. At a moment’s notice, all can be torn away from us. Living each day as it comes, gambling on the next second or the next minute, is likely the best way forward. On Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, Big Thief have achieved the perfect reflection of the current moment in which we live – it is a record of life, an ode to our existence.