[LIT-COUNTRY] More than five minutes pass on Richmond Fontaine’s new, 10th album, The High Country, before Willy Vlautin’s voice is heard. His singing voice, that is; it’s clear from the opening narration, “Inventory,” recited by guest Deborah Kelly of Austin band the Damnations, that we’re deep in Vlautin’s dead-end world. But the album resembles no other in the band’s canon—or, really, genre—its tale unfolding as part song, part story; part Raymond Carver, part Thornton Wilder; part high lonesome sound, part Northwest garage; part goth horror comic, part mumblecore noir, part some new intravenous delivery system for a novel.
Like its characters’ assignations on remote logging roads, the album is pitched between points A and B in the middle of nowhere, committing dizzying shifts of medium—as when an uncomfortably vérité scene of dialogue warps into expressionist audio collage at the moment a character demands three Burgerville milkshakes in exchange for conspiring with another—and lurches tonally from terrifying to tender, cut by one farcical interlude in which every song on the radio is a genre cliche about lumber (“Been a logging man since I got back from ’Nam...”). There’s another duality between the songs sung by Vlautin and those performed—inhabited—by Kelly, who imbues the unnamed heroine with fully fleshed reality; her hushed delivery of “I Can See a Room” alone is the kind of performance that wins an actress an Academy nod.
And Richmond Fontaine, by now, is to Willy Vlautin what a CGI beastie is to Andy Serkis—effortlessly, intuitively responding to and amplifying his every emotional gesture or tonal feint. His novel, The Motel Life, is about to be brought to life on film by Dakota Fanning and Emile Hirsch. But it’s hard to imagine a more vivid rendering of Vlautin’s blooded, bleeding-heart vision than the one provided here by his co-star and his stalwart band.
SEE IT: Richmond Fontaine plays the Star Theater on Friday, Oct. 7, with Ian Moore and Mercy Graves. 8 pm. $10. 21+.