Country Queer

Lifting up LGBTQ+ voices in country and Americana.

Lantern Tour Ad

Big Thief Releases the Dragon

By Sara Gougeon

Photo by Alexa Viscius

Big Thief’s new album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, is huge. Not just in length, but in depth and emotion. The album stitches together twenty carefully crafted songs that take listeners on a journey that touches on life, chance, depression, time, and love. There are moments that make you feel like a child, sitting on the living room floor while the band tells a story, the fiddle filling up the room with warmth. Other moments are stripped down to just Adrianne Lenker, her intricate guitar arrangements, and a story to get lost in. The album as a whole is atmospheric, sometimes intentionally chaotic, and intimate: it asks you to sit down, listen, and stay awhile.  

The band, consisting of Adrianne Lenker (guitar, vocals), Buck Meek (guitar, backing vocals), James Krivchenia (drums), and Max Oleartchik (bass), consider themselves chosen family. You can hear it in the record – they have a familiarity with each other. The instrumentalists aren’t session players meeting the songs an hour before playing them. That feeling of connection, understanding, and unity takes years to develop. Dragon, produced by drummer Krivchenia, finds a fascinating middle ground between establishment and discovery.

After five months of creation and many playgrounds, including upstate New York, Topanga Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, and Tucson, Arizona, the band came up with 45 full songs that they then boiled down to the 20 tracks that make up the album.

Photo by Alexa Viscius

“Dried Roses” and “Promise Is A Pendulum” are intimate, stripped-down works of art. Adrianne Lenker, the songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist, pours poetry and alluring melodies into these songs. “Dried Roses” opening with the lines “Leave the bed unmade/ draw the light green shade/ start the microwave/ dried roses,” offers imagery that suggests the topic of depression. The concept of dried roses is a brilliant metaphor. It’s not gone, but it’s not quite alive either. The lyrics “Half dead/ Half awake” amplify this idea. Lenker keeps each verse extremely short, supporting the theme of just getting by. The song paints a picture of going through the motions as Lenker lists a series of actions: “Sleepily she walks/ Gradually she talks/ With the geese she flocks/ Dried roses.”


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

“Promise is a Pendulum” is another stripped-down song featuring Lenker’s hushed voice and elegant guitar. It’s a heavy song, detailing the struggles of a worn-out relationship: “Promise is a pendulum/ Just swinging at the door.” The lyric is a list of all things she could never be or build.

Lenker sneaks in some queer content with “12,000 Lines,” a song that gracefully captures queer longing: “Some nights barely breathing at all / Waiting for my woman to call.” This, along with the opening line, “Cross twelve thousand lines looking for your face,” feels especially relevant to the queer community, as so many travel great distances to maintain relationships. The title track, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, can easily be viewed with a queer lens. Lyrics like “Take me to the limits of your love” relate to the too-often queer experience of conditional love. And finally, when Lenker releases the dragon, it feels like a queer kid having a conversation with a parent at odds with their identity: “There’s a dragon in the phone line / Coughing up a mighty flame / With a tongue of silver / Calling on my oldest name”.

As a whole, the album is a dreamy, thrilling odyssey, brimming with poetic phrases, thoughtful melodies, and sophisticated arrangements. As Lenker commented: One of the things that bonds us together as a band is pure magic… we are all going for the same thing, and when we hit it… we all know it’s it, but none of us to this day, or maybe ever, will be able to articulate in words what the ‘it’ is. Something about it is magic to me.”

Big Thief certainly released the dragon with this album: fire, passion, and a little bit of magic.