Brooklyn–based indie–folk band Big Thief is nothing short of magical. Their music gives us space to feel and to love, with no questions of whys or hows. On Feb. 11, they released their fifth album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, which is dedicated to all feelings and to all love. The record's lengthy title is the response to a question asked by lead singer and guitarist Adrianne Lenker on “anything,” from her 2020 solo record, Songs: “Dragon in the new warm mountain / Didn’t you believe in me?” This twenty–track album features everything but the kitchen sink in the best way possible. With a chaotic combination of humor and heartbreak, Big Thief explores the natural highs and lows of emotional transparency.
DNWMIBIY begins with “Change,” a bittersweet tribute to heartbreak and finding promise in moving forward. Lenker perfectly conveys the mourning of a relationship while anticipating what is yet to come. When she dwells in jealousy of her partner finding love in somebody else, she compares change to “water” and “skin;” though change is difficult for us to process, we require it. Like water and skin, we would not be who we are without change. “Change” was one of the first singles from DNWMIBIY released last October. Those first four singles, including “Change,” “Certainty,” “Sparrow,” and “Little Things” illustrate the phases of a past relationship: the infatuation, the impending doom, and the end. On “Little Things,” Lenker compares the passion of new love to “some cheap classic movie,” admitting to herself that maybe she's “a little obsessed.”
Though the band released eight singles prior to DNWMIBIY, there's no shortage of unfamiliar songs on the album. The impressive twenty song tracklist isn't the only surprising twist on DNWMIBIY. Big Thief excited fans with their approach to the bluegrass–country genre, a sound we haven’t heard from them before. “Spud Infinity,” a personal favorite from the album, is a beautiful mess of words and feelings. Lenker asks us to appreciate ourselves and everyone around us, for we are more similar than we realize. At the end of the day, “Everybody steps on ants / Everybody eats the plants / Everybody knows to dance, even with just one finger.” Our inherent similarities connect us, and for that, we deserve to celebrate. Characteristic of her eclectic lyricism, Lenker sings of potato knishes and garlic bread for the sake of rhyming. “Spud Infinity” is made complete by Lenker’s brother Noah on the jaw harp and Mat Davidson of Twain on the fiddle.
The everlasting dream of DNWMIBIY continues with “Red Moon,” another jam band–esque track. This song, also experimenting with a more playful sound, is reminiscent of growing up in the mountains, being raised on fables, and following family values. “Burning the rubber down, crossing the hot concrete / I’m gonna leave town, there is someone to meet,” Lenker sings, hopeful of what lies beyond her questions: “What do you yearn for? / Where do you long to be?” These songs consider our relationships less with ourselves than with others.
Throughout the album, we circle back to the initial feelings of grief that come as a romantic relationship ends. DNWMIBIY is a product of self reflection and discovery, which would not be complete without allowing ourselves to lean into painful feelings. “Promise is a Pendulum” is Lenker’s emotional retelling of taking three steps backward. She reckons with the need for acceptance, including “listening to the echo telling [her] to let go.” Similarly, “Love Love Love” describes the desperation in losing love and the overwhelming self–reassurance that it’s still real. Lenker fears a life without this love, with “the cigarette in [her] fist.”
Though we expect Big Thief to sing only of romance’s pitfalls and despairs, the sweetest songs on the album, and possibly the most meaningful, are those that celebrate platonic love. Much of Big Thief’s discography is dedicated to romantic love, but “No Reason” is a campfire sing–along anthem for simple togetherness, a breath of fresh air, a moment to stop feeling and to just exist. Lenker encourages us to “come together for a moment / Look around and dissolve.” While recording “No Reason” in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the band overheard musician Richard Hardy playing the flute and invited him on the track. Hardy’s instrumental break allows for a moment of catharsis, as brief as a “fallen eyelash.”
“Blue Lightning,” the final song on DNWMIBIY is Lenker’s love letter to her bandmates, her greatest platonic love yet. After our emotional journey through this album, we join around the campfire for one last song. Lenker expresses her gratitude for the group of musicians with whom she has experienced many of her greatest and most difficult memories alike. She sings to them, “I wanna be the wrinkle in your eye / Yeah, I wanna be the vapor gets you high.” “Blue Lightning” is a tribute to the purity of friendship, Lenker’s “blue lightning,” “blue heron,” “blue angel.”
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is unlike any of Big Thief's music so far. This album gives us both songs to sing together and songs to enjoy in private moments of suffering, overcoming, and eventual rebirth. Amid the loves that are found and lost, DNWMIBIY asks us to look inside of ourselves and “accept the alien you’ve rejected in your own heart.” Before anything else, this album is for the individual and for finding beauty in the places where we fall short.