Kalporz X Monolith Cocktail: Big Thief ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’

March 1, 2022


In a synergy between our two great houses, each month the Monolith Cocktail shares a post (and vice versa) from our Italian pen pals at Kalporz. This month, a purview of the new Big Thief album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You by Samuele Conficoni.

Big Thief ‘Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You’ (4AD)

In the throes of a creative fire that has accompanied them for years and which is embodied notably in that of their leader, Adrianne Lenker, epicenter of the extraordinary harmony that the band has achieved since its excellent sophomore album, Capacity , a whirlwind of talent that has given life to the great UFOF and Two Hands and to the equally exceptional songs / instrumental , the solo album that Lenker released in the autumn of 2020, Big Thief proceeded to new lands by not limiting their range of action in any way and making treasure of the experiences accumulated so far. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, their fifth album in six years, is the one that Lenker and associates, guitarist Buck Meek, bassist Max Oleartchik and drummer James Krivchenia – here for the first time also as a producer – are now and that shortly they may no longer be, ready for yet another unpredictable and authentic leap forward. The twenty songs on the album are yet another precious piece in the unstoppable and crackling growth path of one of the fittest and most inspired bands of recent years.

Elusive and changeable by nature, the American quartet has long been one with its own music. In fact, it is both what its members “hide” inside, a blanket of fog that somehow brings out the artistic act and makes those who produce it almost disappear, and what gives consistency to the very existences of four, because there is no note or sound that is not the result of their amazing understanding, a sort of competitive trance – to use a metaphor borrowed from the world of sport – which sees the Big Thief making the songs they create and perform. This is why it is in the music itself that they show themselves and that they are blurred, without there being any contradiction in this. In this sense Dragon, in its eighty minutes, it is a daring and decidedly won bet in the course of which the Big Thiefs explore dimensions that they had never explored yet, despite having traveled and described so many, and so different from each other, previously.

It is precisely the brotherhood between the four members of the group and their so clear-cut community of ideas and vision of things that makes everything that the Big Thief bring to life together spiritual and earthly. Here the branches of the cosmic and spiritual element of UFOF and the earthly and terrestrial element of Two Hands intertwine for the first time, condensed seamlessly, and if Dragon lacks conciseness and synthesis – lato sensu – which characterised its two illustrious predecessors is only because its strength lies precisely in its splendidly chaotic organisation, perhaps the best oxymoron that could describe the album, a sort of very personal White Album within the artistic path of the group. That “dragon in the new warm mountain” named in the text of the wonderful “anything” present on Lenker’s songs album now becomes the mysterious and pulsating presence around which this exceptional musical path takes shape and grows.

Driven by the need to give vent to a creative fire that for some years seems to really have no limits and by the need to base this on a sense of artistic freedom that is in no case negotiable, the four sew solid folk episodes on and for themselves, country rides, revealing ballads, psychedelic pop, electric rock blasts, smoky trip-hop hangover and amazing electronic hikes with nothing out of place. It is precisely this poikilía that holds the whole project together with a disconcerting clarity, and it is the allusive art that the band puts on its feet, with elegant and subtle quotes to John Prine and even Portishead, to name only two names, that weaves the fil rougevery fragile yet foundational that runs through the work, fundamental in the understanding of this magnum opus , magnum both in depth and in length. It is for this reason that episodes such as “Flower of Blood”, sharp and irrepressible, whose obstinate rhythm and whose wall of sound are almost unique in the production of the group, which goes in an electronic and distorted direction at other times, can sprout. of the record, the pertinacious “Heavy Bend” and the suffocating “Blurred View”. Even more difficult to describe is that hurricane of Proustian and Joycian images that is “Little Things” , sublime almost psychedelic pop rock that arises from an immersive and all-encompassing amalgam of vocals, guitars, bass and drums.

Dragon is obviously an extraordinary open window on Lenker’s songwriting qualities, in fact for several years she has already become one of the most popular composers in the American music scene. His about her sbragís about her and her own conception of writing emerge almost everywhere in the course of the unfolding of Dragon. A constant in Lenker’s writing, for example, is to try to approach something potentially human that perhaps, however, is not human, and to do it as if one were alien to (and alienated from) it. “Simulation Swarm” is the most perfect realisation of this design: the discomfort in perceiving one’s own corporeality or in not being able to harmonize it with that of others makes one instant weak and suddenly invincible in the immediately following instant; you are on the verge of giving in and letting yourself be overcome by the tumultuous chaos of life until a moment later you are ready to fight even with your bare hands to survive and try to make contact with the creature you are approaching. It is a feeling that can be read in some passages of the Memorial by Paolo Volponi or in some poems-fragments by Giuseppe Ungaretti. Lenker always manages to find a point of balance before the fracture becomes irremediable: the magic of his songs lies above all in this.

The themes that the songs touch are many and fundamental. Lenker’s writing, as we know by now, somehow envelops any nuance of the world, of the existing and the non-existent. In “Certainty”, the only song on the record that, in addition to Lenker’s signature, also carries Meek’s, the pure linguistic game and the desire to concretely represent something that cannot be touched by hand interpenetrate: “Maybe I love you is a river so high / Maybe I love you is a river so low ”, Lenker sings, words that in their apparent simplicity betray an allegorical meaning that is impossible to exhaust in a few verses. Thus, we remain clinging to the passing epiphanies that the piece, through its solid gait built around a captivating melody, disseminates like crumbs of bread in a very dense and dark forest. “Sit on the phone, watch TV / Romance, action, mystery”: it is as if, as Lenker lists them, those actions and names suddenly materialise in front of us, and also the things that once seemed to us more natural and banal now they are part of a primeval and sincere cosmos and therefore take on an inestimable value. And also in “Spud Infinity” the horror vacui of the situations that the song paints us in front of our eyes becomes a statement of solid and highly original poetics, a true instruction manual on how to strike in the depths of the soul through irony and fantasy.

Another element that makes Dragon in part different from its predecessors is the strong collaborative aspect that characterises it. In reality, the external musicians involved are not numerous, but it is the band’s sound that is even wider and more multicoloured than the already very deep and composite one of the twin albums released in 2019. Those represented the akmè of two complementary world-views, and the focus rigorous and centered that they pursued is inevitably and rightly avoided here, shunned from the beginning, in the very conception of what has become Dragon. To make the disc’s nuances even more diversified and iridescent is, for example, the rural fiddle that goes wild in the joyful “Spud Infinity”, whose marked irony actually hides deep and disturbing reflections between the lines, as usual, as revealed by the same Lenker in a recent interview with Pitchfork , and in the romantic “Red Moon”, with a bubbly rhythm. There are also dazzling and bewitching purely folk moments during which Lenker is alone with her voice and guitar, as happens in the enchanting “The Only Place”, one of the most breathtaking moments of the record. “The only place that matters / Is by your side”, Lenker sings as a flame consumes her, as if carried away by her own song.

The mischievously messy appearance that Dragon seems to have betrays an extremely careful and precise organisation. The determination of the group is impressive and James Krivchenia’s production is versatile and detailed and is emblematic of the group’s choice to record the album in four different locations, Massachusetts, New York, California and Arizona, which in part follows what had happened. for UFOF and Two Hands , the first, dreamlike and ecstatic, recorded in the Seattle metropolitan area, the second, pungent and direct, recorded between California and Arizona. In Dragon coexist an even greater number of places and people encountered in this musical and geographical journey. To connect the dots is the Lenker’s excellent songwriting is his voice, warm and enveloping, and that kind of spell that seems to kidnap the quartet every time he starts playing, a quartet that, owned by some daimon , is ready once again to amaze us.

RATED:: 80/100

(Samuele Conficoni)


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