Richmond Fontaine – The High Country
2011 was the year I belatedly discovered Richmond Fontaine and the novels of singer/songwriter Willy Vlautin. The High Country is the ultimate merging of Vlautin’s twin talents, less a concept album and more a song novel. It’s a story of the secret love between a mechanic and an auto parts store counter girl set against the bleak backdrop of a logging community. The interminable logging roads and the deep forests border a world of drugs, depression, desperation and, ultimately, violence, that Vlautin’s star-crossed lovers seek to escape. The story moves between the starkly beautiful and the deeply harrowing, working much like Vlautin’s prose fiction, presenting an epic, emotional tale in an all too real world setting. The following videos will give you an idea of the breadth of this work. The first, ‘Lost In The Trees’ tells the tale of a party out in the woods that gets ‘a little fucked up.’
While ‘I Can See A Room’ is a tender duet between the mechanic and the girl, a fragile piece that describes their love with a beauty and simplicity that is Vlautin’s trademark style. The video shows Richmond Fontaine, with special guest Amy Boone (The Damnations), performing live in-store at Rough Trade East, London UK (14/9/2011).
If you like emotive, thought-provoking music with a strong narrative thread, this Alt Country Opera should be on your wishlist.
Thousands – The Sound of Everything
Thousands debut album, recorded on location in the woods of Washington State with only one microphone, struck me for both the delicately beautiful nature of its sound and the philosophy of its recording process. It’s a special album, recorded not in a studio but outdoors, backed by the sounds of life going on around it, or in the echoing halls of …… The down-to-earth nature of the the duo in interview, Kristian Garrard and Luke Bergman, most apparent in their self-deprecating statement that they each play easy guitar parts, which, when listened to in harmony, sounds like one really interesting and complex one, is also something that endeared their rather wonderful first release to me. Also, nodding your head to Simon and Garfunkel with your album title, is a ballsy and wholly fitting move for this, acoustic guitar picking, harmonising, folksie pair. To get a real sense of Thousands, I urge you to watch the Boss not Boss interview/sessions the band recorded earlier this year, it features some lovely performaces and an insight into their unique approach to the recording process.
White Denim – D
D’s mix of melodic, psuedo-psychedelic rock was part of my soundtrack of the summer, the genre-hopping nature of White Denim (they skip effortlessly between/boisterously meld Alt Country, sun-drenched folk, punk, boogie and stoner rock here) bolstered by the addition of a new guitarist that takes them from trio to quartet. In fact we had the pleasure of two great albums from them in 2011 when record company conflicts lead to them releasing Last Day of Summer, an album of older material recorded for free on their website while waiting for their record company to see the light and release D. That an album of such positivity can emerge from the issues surrounding it is testament to White Denim’s flowering as a truly great band. In decades past, when rock music was King, these guys would have been massive, as it is, we’ll have to settle for them being brilliant.
My favourite track from D, Keys, was not available on the tube of you but I wanted to post my favourite lyric from it, as it describes the writing process so succinctly:
What started up in my head
Ended out in my fingers
And here’s my second favourite track from the eighth best album of 2011: