Big Thief breaks barriers with new, genre-bending album


Photo courtesy of @bigthiefmusic on Instagram.

Cover of “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” by Big Thief.

Big Thief released their expansive fifth album “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You” earlier this month. Spanning 20 songs and an hour and 20 minutes, the Brooklyn quartet sings about loss, change and love––in no particular order.

Before the album was officially released, the album was rated a nine out of 10 on Pitchfork, one of the most influential music rating websites since the early 2000s.

“Big Thief’s ambitious yet unburdened fifth album is a 20-song epic of kaleidoscopic invention… rambling far beyond the bounds of their previous work,” Pitchfork wrote.

Shifting from their signature indie-rock style, the band moves toward their folk roots in this album, with each song creating its own world––and atmosphere––of sound.

Lead singer Adrianne Lenker’s voice is unique and captivating. Although her solo work is genius, the 30-year-old singer-songwriter synergizes with three bandmates to create an album that is more ambitious than the first four.

The album starts slow, with a song that is perfectly suited to the band’s evolution. In “Change,” Lenker sings softly over a slow drum beat, accompanied by the calming strum of an acoustic guitar. “Would you live forever, never die/ While everything around passes?” she implores. In Change, Lenker croons about the importance of change, while also embracing the pain that comes with it.

Lenker then applies the concept of change to love and relationships: “Could I feel happy for you/ When I hear you talk with her like we used to?”

The instrumentals–ironically–don’t change throughout the song; they remain consistent. Lenker then takes a stark shift. “Death, like a door/ To a place we’ve never been before,” she reaffirms, as the song comes to a close.

Although the song begins in a heart wrenching manner––a signature move of Big Thief––the album doesn’t stay that way; it changes.

This change isn’t represented only in the themes of the songs, but the genres too. Although the first few songs on the album have folk and country roots, the sound of the album pivots on its title track, “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You.”

The song begins with wind chimes and the quiet strum of a guitar. Almost immediately, however, the song moves into a world of its own as the band comes together and creates a song that sounds almost extraterrestrial. Lenker adds onto that sound, as she sings in a hushed voice “It’s a little bit magic/ Like a river of morning geese/In the new warm mountain/Where the stone face forms and speaks.”

Big Thief takes this alternative sound, and runs with it on “Blurred View.” The song begins with a low electronic humming, followed by a steady drum beat, complemented by eerie atmospheric noises. In a similarly hushed voice, Lenker sings “Within the last kiss/ I am the genesis/While the earth rolls bleeding from its axis.”

She then continues, embracing the fact that she contains multitudes. “I am the magazine.. I am the private room…I am the water rise…I am the sweaty sheets…I am the right brain…” she sings in various parts throughout the song.

With this shift in genre, one might expect the rest of the album to follow suit. Big Thief, however, doesn’t want to remain stagnant. The following song, “Red Moon,” takes on more of a country sound, and is upbeat, humorous and energetic.

“I’ve been here before, looking at the wild country/ Open the screen door, talking with Diane Lee–that’s my Grandma!” Lenker announces as the fiddles take center stage.

Through the following songs, Lenker and her bandmates switch between a country sound and an alternative indie sound, leaving the listener on their toes. The album as a whole is an example of the change that Lenker sang about in the album’s opening.

This change reaches its climax in “Simulation Swarm,” perhaps the band’s more technically impressive and captivating song.

The song starts off quiet and steady, with the sounds of drums and guitars creating a mystical atmosphere. Although the sounds of the song are entrancing, Lenker’s lyrics are what makes this song such a masterpiece. “A relief, beckon deep blue/ Fettered in the magnet sun/ Eat the gun as it feeds you,” she sings as guitar harmonics ring in the background. Her voice grows more urgent as the song presses on. “From the 31st floor of the simulation swarm/ With the drone of fluorescence/ Flicker, fever, fill the form,” she hushes.

Although the lyrics are largely ambiguous, it is clear that Lenker yearns for those lost in her past. “And you could be my brother/ Once again, fall asleep with our backs against each other/ You believe, I believe too/ That you are the river of light who I love,” she sings, potentially referring to her brother who was given up for adoption before she was born.

The album, a confusing yet compelling blend of genres, closes in the perfect way with “Blue Lightning,” which takes on a country sound as Lenker croons “I want to feel so happy that I cry/ Yeah I want to be the shoelace that you tie/ Yeah I want to live forever ’til I die,” she announces as the song comes to a close.

This album, a winding path of genres, emotions and themes, is one of Big Thief’s best, exemplifying the way that change is necessary–not just in life, but also to make great art.