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Review: Exploration pays off in Big Thief's 20-track album


“Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You,” Big Thief (4AD)

Brooklyn-based indie rock band Big Thief seems to draw from a bottomless well of creativity. After releasing two records in 2019, the band’s fifth LP, “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You,” is a sprawling 20-track double album.

While quantity does not always equal quality, in Big Thief’s case, the band never compromises the excellence of their songwriting. Instead of churning out carbon copies of the same song, they use each album as a playground for exploration — and it pays off.

In “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You,” the group of four — Adrianne Lenker, Buck Meek, Max Oleartchik, and James Krivchenia — recorded in four different studios with four different engineers and drummer Krivchenia as producer. The effect is a collection of songs that feel dynamic with unexpected turns throughout the track list. The soft love song “12,000 Lines” is followed by the buzzing “Simulation Swarm.”

In “Sparrow,” Lenker’s writing is unmatched. It takes a special talent to bring new life to a story told a million times. The song, reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” with its Biblical references and Lenker’s tenor, tells the story of Adam and Eve in a poignant way, tinged with a feminist edge in its examination of blame, shame and entrapment.

The reward of experimentation shows in songs like the hypnotic “Blurred View” and the mesmerizing “Little Things,” with Lenker’s vocals echoing over chugging, bright guitars. They also explore more bluegrass influences. While “Red Moon” melds well with the album, “Spud Infinity” is perhaps too on the nose, with the jaw harp almost satirizing the genre.

As with all Big Thief records, Lenker’s voice and songwriting shines in the album’s quieter moments. Opener “Change" — unknowingly recorded while the band was rehearsing the song in the studio — is a striking analysis of change. Whether change is viewed through the lens of the end of a relationship or the end of a life, Lenker is able to find the beauty and necessity at the heart: “Would you walk forever in the light/ To never learn the secret of the quiet night?”

It’s the perfect opener for an album not afraid of change as Big Thief weaves through genres and themes on “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You.”

Ragan Clark, The Associated Press

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