Since last August, Big Thief have been letting songs from their forthcoming album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You trickle out in ones and twos. The sound of the record, so far, feels as mutable as the sky in springtime. They’ve given us chiming indie rock from deep in their wheelhouse, sure, but also barn-dance country, stripped-down folk, kaleidoscopic post-rock, and whatever you call the churning vortex of “Little Things,” a song as forceful and as psychedelic as anything in their catalog. The album’s production is a moving target, ranging from shambling lo-fi to shockingly hi-def. With “Simulation Swarm,” the latest preview of the album, they push into yet another dimension.
The first thing that jumps out is the song’s dizzying crispness. Against a shimmering backdrop of open-string acoustic strumming, James Krivchenia lays down an uncharacteristically minimalist drum pattern, all knife’s-edge hi-hats and bone-dry snares; into the wide-open space suggested by those elements sails Max Oleartchik’s high-necked bass melody, which positively glows. All the usual components of a Big Thief song are here, but it’s as if they’ve shifted in position, relative both to each other and to you. The details are sharper, the shadows deeper.
What hasn’t changed is Adrianne Lenker’s style of writing. It’s simultaneously cryptic and ultra-vivid, littered with crystalline visions, charged with animal spirits and intimations of violence. Early in the song, as we’re still getting our bearings, she offers this dense tangle of images, making a frictionless glide from grace to menace: “A relief, beckon deep blue/Fettered in the magnet sun/Eat the gun as it feeds you/Spitting up the oxygen.” Against her bandmates’ deceptively simple backdrop she trots out her usual litany of horses and blood, pale trees and moonlit floors, and one name—Andy—held out like a talisman. In the chorus, she returns to the idea of a “simulation swarm/With the drone of fluorescence,” contrasting these cold, electronic-sounding things (is she singing about the internet?) with the warmth of human presence, arms enfolding another’s arms. Within Big Thief’s universe, it’s an alien landscape that feels instantly familiar.