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Album of the Month: Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

The latest album from Big Thief has been a long time coming. Not that they needed to be in any hurry, after releasing two critically-acclaimed full-length records in 2019. Even with that commendable effort just barely in the rearview, the band dreamt up plans for their next collection, this one recorded in four different places across the country. After pandemic delays (and three of four band members releasing solo albums), the New York quartet’s seemingly endless creative well has yielded a double album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You.

Much like its title suggests, the album is rambling, fantastical, and jam-packed. The lion’s share of Dragon is the band’s characteristic folk rock sound, here even further crystallized than before. The band’s warm acoustics and close knit harmonies bring to life the campfire imagery on the album cover in songs like “Certainty,” or the fiddle-inflected hoedown “Red Moon,” complete with grandma shoutouts and all. Moments like this pervade the album, from the practice-take-as-final-take presentation of “Change,” to the studio chatter ending the album on “Blue Lightning,” the twenty-song set often presents as a document of the band at work, a communal setting where someone just happened to be there to capture some magic between friends. A variety of moods outside the rustic setting are scattered throughout Dragon as well, from the lo-fi, drum machine-led ode to life behind the wheel, “Wake Me Up To Drive,” to one of my personal favorite tracks on the album, the hazy, electric “Flower of Blood.” Style changes aside, what remains a constant in these songs is vocalist/guitarist Adrianne Lenker’s phenomenal work as a lyricist, in turns intimate, surreal, cutting, and mystical.

The most remarkable thing about the album is how well it avoids the plague of double album lull and bloat; nothing feels like filler, everything feels in its right place, and the continuity across sounds is natural, the band gracefully morphing into each scene change. Over its eighty minutes, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is the sound of Big Thief firing on all cylinders, but with an effortlessness hard-earned from deep musical bonding and kinship. I’ve seen several claims on this album’s release that Big Thief is the next “great American rock band,” and five albums in, I think this one seals the deal.

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Evan Miller is a percussionist, lover of sound, and is probably buying too many cassette tapes online right now. Evan got his start in radio in 2012 at WWSU at Wright State University, where he was studying percussion performance. He followed through with both endeavors and eventually landed a lucrative dual career playing experimental music at home and abroad, and broadcasting those sounds to unsuspecting listeners Sunday nights on The Outside. Maintaining a connection to normal music, Evan also plays drums in bands around the area, and hosts WYSO's Midday Music show. When not doing something music-related, Evan is most likely listening to podcasts or watching food videos at home with his cat.