Imagine that your brother left home one night to never come back. Cards and letters were sent but he didn’t tell anyone where he went. Sorrow makes your mother crazy. She locks herself in her room and just go out to go to work. Your brother comes back two years later and tells stories about money he made and women he had in remote harbours. But he leaves again. No one knows why and where to. You still have his car, letters that he wrote but never sent, his pocket knife and other personal belongings… That’s what’s the narrator tells you in ‘Willamette’, one of the best songs I’ve heard this year, an 8 minutes-long astonishing, doleful, epic song reminiscent of Neil Young and Slint. When in the middle of the song Vlautin’s appealing twang stops telling this stark story, when the crescendo reaches its climax, the pedal steel seems so lonely in this dark atmosphere - echoing the characters’ predicaments - that it truly gives you goosebumps. This song really generates a sense of loss and alienation.
Richmond Fontaine is another band coming from lush Portland, Oregon. Their style can be referred to as Americana. They are somewhere in mid-tempo America in-between Granddady (minus offbeat childish keyboards sounds – ‘Barely Losing’), 2 Dollar Guitar (‘Post to Wire’, ‘Always on the Ride’), Chavez (‘The Longer You Wait’), Giant Sand and American Music Club (‘Polaroid’, ‘Two Broken Hearts’). Singer Willy Vlautin sets the tone thanks to his beautiful disillusioned American twang while the pedal steel seems to pave the way for hope in laid-back ballads when it does not evoke cold, scary deserts and rainy landscapes in darker songs.
Formed in 1994, Post to Wire is already Richmond Fontaine’s fifth album. It’s a compelling concept album alternating laid-back twisted country ballads with noisy-pop songs whose light heartedness is undermined by the lyrics (‘Montgomery Park’ starts with ‘I’ve never been so uncertain, scared or alone…’) and with disjointed short spoken words tracks (called ‘postcards’) interspersed in-between songs throughout the album. These postcards are sent home by a so-called Walter who is on the lam after having ripped off his family and friends, he went to California to start a new life but it turns out that it is a complete failure; while the songs deal with people Walter left behind, people who tell what happened since he left and do not seem to feel a lot better than him.
These tracks are stories of hopeless rides through dark landscapes, feelings of waste and alienation, of remote bars in which broken hearts desperately sip sad beers, of burdensome loneliness and tiredness, of losers forever devoid of hope but still looking for slights improvements in their lives. Post to Wire could be a great soundtrack to a road movie whose bare plot makes you watch the antiheroes’ encounters during their rides from a redneck town to another, from spots in the open country to the next big city through highways crossing the Frontier. For some reason, it seems that Steve Buscemi would star this film…
-SEB ‘by the fence’ WOOd.
/nov 1st 2004/