REVIEW: Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

If the music of Big Thief was a physical place, it would be a campfire nestled in a mossy forest, friends cozying up around the flame and reminiscing on bittersweet memories. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, the American band’s fifth studio album, is the same campfire at dawn while the world sleeps, embers flickering, the sky brightening over a peaceful horizon. After conjuring this mental image, I came to realize that the cover itself is a sketchy drawing of animals around a campfire— a pure reflection of the album’s commitment to simple and authentic emotion. As the nature imagery suggests, the sonic world of the indie-folk act is anything but industrial. Even their more experimental songs are rooted in traditional folk, avoiding the mass-produced synthetic sound of modern pop. This genuine touch is what brings Big Thief’s masterful work to life.

DNWMIBIY feels more in touch with the band’s true voice than Big Thief’s 2016 album Masterpiece. The folky guitar evokes images of my youth, of rainy-day hikes in little red rain boots and curiously watching bugs move across the ground. Big Thief explores themes of adolescence, particularly the growing pains of becoming older and finding yourself face-to-face with an emotional reality no longer shrouded by naivety. Adrianne Lenker— who released successful solo music that leans toward a more delicate feminine sound— pours her heart into the vocals, her wavering voice expressing rawness that doesn’t have to be screamed to be felt. “Change” is a particularly resonant track and one of the most popular on the album; lyrically, “Change” has the same transcendent feeling as classic poetry. Like a gentle lullaby, Lenker sings:

“Change like the sky, like the leaves, like a butterfly, death, like a door to a place we’ve never been before”.

The album dives fearlessly into experiments as the album progresses, with spunky lyrics and textured sounds that stray from the calm earthy feel but still stick to the sense of adolescence. Adrianne Lenker’s songwriting is similar to a child’s wild and carelessly joyous thought process. It feels loose, freeing, and successfully exploratory. “Spud Infinity” carries on nature imagery to shout a gleefully unified message:

“One peculiar organism aren’t we all together?
Everybody steps on ants
Everybody eats the plants
Everybody knows to dance, even with just one finger”

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is an honest tale of unbridled feeling. Adrianne Lenker’s gentle voice echoes unconditional hope, admiration, and longing; it’s a love letter to the natural wonders of human existence and human expression, packaged in a homey atmosphere. If you’re an outdoorsy person, a folk-music-listener, an indie-music-enjoyer, or simply someone who wants to dig under the chaos of daily life to reconnect with your natural emotions, give this album a listen. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You by Big Thief is available now on Spotify, Apple Music, or another music streaming platform of your choice.

REVIEW: Before Love Came to Kill Us

If Jessie Reyez’s Before Love Came to Kill Us was a quarantine essential, it would be a serrated knife used to saw through a loaf of thick-crusted, homemade bread. Released this year on March 27, Reyez’s debut studio album wastes no time ripping into the artist’s grittiest emotions and slicing away with expansive, genre-bending gusto. The versatility of Reyez’s vocals and unapologetically blunt lyricism are present throughout the album, with sounds ranging from the swaggering, synth-infused “Ankles” to the reproachful Spanish ballad “La Memoria”. Though colored by a multitude of musical genres, each song seems to inflect different emotional responses to the messiness of love and the realization of one’s own mortality.

Reyez introduces her work with a distinctive vulgarity, declaring “I should’ve fucked your friends/It would’ve been the best revenge/For the fire that you started”, before continuing to saw away with impassioned remorse at the memory of her ex-lover. Reyez’s raspy declarations are accompanied by the almost ironically soft tones of a piano and string quartet, reflective of how the song’s mood glides through extremes. The singer slips between the fiery indignation of being “sick with feeling like I deserved better” and the quiet jealousy of “if I blow your brains out, I could guarantee that you’ll forget her” – delivering unforgettable lines with no semblance of mercy.

Before Love Came to Kill Us includes several of Reyez’s previous releases – like raw 2017 single “Figures”, and”Imported”, a slinky R&B collaboration with 6LACK. Though the tracks fit in thematically, with “Figures” cracking down on post-breakup hurt and “Imported” commenting on immigration and casual love, something about each seems to disrupt the album’s emotional flow. Perhaps the two singles flavor differently in emotional maturity – while the rest of Before Love Came to Kill Us exudes loud confidence even while tackling great insecurity, “Figures” and “Imported” display vulnerability more blatantly.

One of my favorites from this album is “Ankles”, a gloriously self-assertive production drawing upon both choir and trap sounds that make the listener feel as if they were curling their lip at their own unsavory ex. Reyez chants along with the instrumentals by continuously bearing a disparaging truth about her ex’s future: that regardless of who he finds, “these bitches can’t measure up/To my ankles/Levels? (Nah)”. She does this while bearing the truth of her own realizations – that the ex and their relationship, in all its cheating toxicity, had managed to string her along with guilt – not once, but twice. Reyez finishes her masterful rampage surrounded in ticking drum beats and the last strains of a choir, asserting that like her ex’s future prospects, he is “backwards, 2 feet/Shallow, too real”.

Review :: New Music and the UM rendition

University of Michigan’s own Contemporary Directions Ensemble, otherwise known as CDE, is a group dedicated to playing contemporary music. What the hell is that? Steve Reich, a highly-praised, NYC based composer said, “…the essential difference between ‘classical music’ and ‘popular music.’ And that essential difference is: one is notated, and the other is not notated.”

Contemporary music a.k.a “New music” is a genre of notated music that appeals to a modern aesthetic. Similar to the way in which Beethoven was a revolutionary of his time, composers alive today like Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Cage, Iannis Xenkis, David Lang, John Luther Adams, and a cast of others, are revolutionizing our ears and our minds. New concepts and definitions of sound and music are being realized almost daily. These composers have been classical trained but have moved so far past the archaic term, “classical” which no longer comes close to describing what they do.

Modern art – music meant for the art galleries and the coffee shops, the intimate venues and the outdoors, the art goers of today and the musicians of tomorrow. This is 21 century shit.

CDE >

Conducted by Christopher James Lees, and made up of graduate students, CDE is a small group – about 20 large. This past Thursday night, their show entitled Fathers and Sons let them all rip it. They played driving music like the Son of Chambers Symphony, paired with the sound explorations of John Cage, paired with the 20 minute long bassoon solo, paired with the in-house piece by Kuster, dedicated to her father now past. Incredible textures, wild combinations, and innovative sounds. A buffet for the ears

The gorgeous program ~

Here, Leaving by Kristin Kuster, premier by U-M composition faculty member

How we got here (4th edition) by Luciano Berio, bassoon solo complete with circular breathing

But what about the noise of crumpling
paper which he used to do in order to
paint the series of “Papiers froisses” or
tearing up paper to make “Papiers
dechires?” Arp was stimulated by water
(sea, lake, and flowing waters like rivers
forests)

by John Cage. Yes, all one piece. Simply Beautiful

Son of Chambers Symphony by David T. Little

I would describe everything in detail but as a friend told me once, “it’s like when someone tells you a joke is funny before you hear it decide for yourself.” In light of that, I would love to hear your thoughts. Listen to a couple of these, Catch a John Cage concert it’s his 100 birthday this year (if he was still alive) and I’m nutty about it. If you don’t hear of any, just get in touch.

Hunter Chee