Big Thief (4AD, 2022)
“Would you live forever, never die / While everything around passes?” So asks Adrianne Lenker on “Change,” the first track of Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You. The album (Dragon for short) is the latest LP from Big Thief, and its title gives a hint of its contents: It is a vast work, not so much in length (though at 80 minutes, it is not concise) but in the universality of its themes, which combine to be more spiritually than literally coherent.
It is hard to pin down exactly what Lenker—Big Thief’s vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, and all-around auteur—has done with Dragon. Sonically, the album executes her vision by pulling on a delightfully diverse set of musical ideas: Big Thief is as happy to employ a mouth harp (“Spud Infinity”) as a synthesizer. The effect is a moody and melodic bluegrass gothic.
Thematically, Dragon traces a wide arc, collecting the standard human experiences of love and loss and setting them against a background that is alternatingly as familiar as a radio playing in the kitchen (“Red Moon”) and as exotic as the Garden of Eden (“Sparrow”). In the same spirit, “The Only Place” asks, “What if all the worlds in space / Would melt into one single place?”
Big Thief’s vision is practically eschatological. And like all good eschatology, the lesson it takes from the end time is simple: “When all material scatters / . . . / The only place that matters / Is by your side.” Dragon ends by answering its own question: “Can we make love, can we hold fast? / I really wanna try / . . . / I wanna live forever ’til I die” (“Blue Lightning”). The album is filled with unpretentious hope, blissfully unbothered by its own paradox. Listening to it for the first time on Good Friday, I felt it resonate with the seeming paradox of our faith: that life would die so the dead might live.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Martin Schumann [CC BY-SA-4.0]