With published novelist Willy Vlautin at the helm, it comes as no surprise that Richmond Fontaine’s ninth studio album is a literate affair. A highly conceptual work, it tells the bleak love story between a mechanic and an auto parts store counter girl in a rural logging community in the band’s native Oregon. As much audio book as album, it expertly interleaves characters between songs and lets local community mysteries and domestic jealousies and dramas gradually unfurl.
A particularly cinematic quality (perhaps inspired by producer John Askew’s film scoring work) comes with certain tracks that are merely snippets of dialogue and sound effects; for example Driving Back To The Chainsaw Sea, which is purely the sound of a car radio dial being tuned on a journey to a bar in the woods of that name. These strange sonic interludes both serve to drive along the narrative and break up the swooning yearning melancholy of the cast of lonely, desperate dreamers conjured in the songs. Other tracks are short instrumentals or half-songs, such as the chaotic discordant psychodrama of Angus King Tries To Leave The House.
Not an album that panders to the iTunes generation, its best enjoyed in one complete attentive sitting as if watching a film. That’s not to say that musically certain tracks don’t stand out. The gruffer tones of Vlautin on the pounding Trees, waltzing On A Spree and down-at-heel The Mechanic’s Life contrast with guest vocalist Deborah Kelly of The Damnations, who previously shared verses on Post To Wire. Her eerie spoken commentary on opener Inventory and subtly cracked sigh on Let Me Dream Of The High Country and Deciding To Run are highlights, caressing a palette of acoustic guitars and haunting strings. “I can finally see a place for you and me” she croons, a heart slowly shattering in the background.
An immaculately told doomed love story with such an evocative quality that you can almost smell the rain on the logs, The High Country is an album in which to immerse yourself.