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NEW-ISH: Big Thief - Dragon Warm New Mountain I Believe In You

Disclaimer: all new music is reviewed on the stock stereo of my 2008 Toyota Camry.

So - Big Thief. I've listened to this one twice now, and here's what I can't get out of my head:

I could fill this page with platitudes about Important Artists or the state of Modern Rock but that would just cement the perception of rock and roll music as a critically antique thing, just clinging to life. It's not, really, and this record, Dragon Warm New Mountain I Believe In You isn't a standard indie rock record at all but instead something much more otherworldly and enchanting.

It's old-school, that's for sure. Twenty songs unfold slowly over an unfashionably long running time. It's long, rambling, and dense, and opaque, and all the other words any writer has ever used to describe a critically-acclaimed double record. It does remind me a lot of The Basement Tapes, but less in a way that recalls the music of that album and more in a way that suggests the unbridled joy of communal music-making. It does share that album's ramshackle, natural pulse. There's a domestic quietude that pervades the whole thing, too, but whereas The Basement Tapes exists down in the earth, feet firmly planted in the soil, Dragon has deeply cosmic concerns. In our techno-fascist times of existential anxiety, its a startling reminder of other modes of life and living.

The cosmic perspective here is a relief, especially in an age where wonder and fantasy have been transformed into a colossal money-making industry, and is only fantastic insofar as it can put morally upright human beings at the center of its narrative. We're constantly under assault by dream images and CGI-enabled reveries in television and film and on the internet and it feels like that's done a lot to numb our instinct for the supernatural and beatific. Big Thief shifts that narrative by taking humans out of its center; instead, on Dragon, people are no more significant than any other part of a totally animated Creation. It accomplishes it in the familiar language of folk music, and in near-familiar images of nature and domestic life.

So what does this record sound like? This record sounds like a big thaw in mid-March, a pale afternoon when the wind is unsettled and it's not cold but not quite warm; the last of the old snow is packed down to ice and birds of prey fill the skies, soaring against the breeze. It's bryter a little layter, and you're coming down from mushrooms - it suddenly seems very important that you call your Mom. Nothing bad, just to chat.



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