Saturday, December 24, 2022

Albums of the Year # 2 Big Thief - Dragon New Mountain I Believe in You


Big Thief are such a bunch of old hippies despite the fact that they're based, at least theoretically, in Brooklyn, New York. I'd like to say from the off in this review of their huge, new magnus opus, the ludicrously titled Dragon New Mountain I Believe in You, that this is by no means a criticism. In fact it's a huge compliment. It's wonderful to see such glorious ambiton from a band in 2022. Also wonderful to see this glorious ambition so utterly realised.

For this, it seems, is the band's masterpiece. That's really saying something, as they've already released some quite astonishing records since their debut, fittingly entitled Masterpiece way bach in 2016. I've followed their progress here in great depth on It Starts.. ever since to this point of new arrival. In 2022, or 1969 if you prefer to see it that way.

For the two bands that Big Thief resemble most of all now, having shed pretty much all of their early Punky, pained edge are the original Band, The Band, and Creedence Clearwater Revival with Janis, or perhaps Melanie, taking the mic.

Adrianne Lenker, Big Thief's lead vocalist and principle songwriter is the fulcrum of the band, their spiritual core, even though it's always clear that this is a full on collective effort from all four members of the group unit. This collective drive is immediarely apparent from any group shot that's taken these days, where they are inevitably draped around each other with clear and utter devotion and commitment.

For Lenker, who was raised in a Christian sect until she was 6, has clearly never quite lost her communal, outsider roots. In fact they've hardened and refined and defined themselves if anything over the course of Big Thief's career. Dragon New Mountain is the ultimate drawn out campfire hoedown, new age Music From the Big Pink meets Willie & The Poor Boys for new millenials and Lenker is always at the very heart of things.

It's a quite wonderful record. Focused on life, imagining death, with each band member straining ever sinew throughout the coure of ts run. Whether you can stay the course, and sit through all ot its twenty tracks at a single sitting is another matter. That's a lot to ask of twenty first century attention spans.

But that's what I did, early this morning, and I'm glad I did. It doesn't seem at first play, to have weak tracks. There was only one that I didn't particularlt care for and even that might grow on me. It's a quite astonishing record and may very well be the very best album that I'll hear all year. If that turns out to be the case, then Big Thief will certainly  deserve their moment. They're a band that have had their share of hard knocks, most notably Lenker and guitarists Buck Meek's marriage falling apart, but their staying on the band together anyhow, realising their musical mission took principle priority over all else.

So Big Thief are hippies essentially, just as The Patti Smith Group were hippies way back when as well as being original punks.  Dragon New Mountain is an altogether intriguing, mammoth trek, something to unpick at leisure over the coming months. They're a band that have stars in their eyes. I hope this record brings them their full critical and commercial due. It's utterly astonishing.

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