Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To
The thought that Richmond Fontaine will never release another record is almost as unbearable as the act of listening to their new album itself. For this is indeed signalled as the final outing for a group that came together back in Portland more than 20 years ago. Since then, we have been treated to marvels such as Post To Wire, Thirteen Cities, and We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River. Of course, to say we have been treated to such gems is to discount the feelings of muted anger, intense sadness, and general world-weariness that are induced by any record from Willy Vlautin and the band. The lesson quickly learned is that a Richmond Fontaine record should never be put on at a dinner party, but also that if you’re feeling a little bit downed then by listening to almost any of their songs you can be reassured that you’re not alone in that regard, which is never a bad thing to be reminded of. On their valedictory release, things have changed only by staying the same. Returning to a more conventional song cycle after the utterly unique combination of story and music that was The High Country, You Can’t Go Back … is another collection of tales from modern-day life. As ever, there’s a wide cast of characters. The three brothers who roll into town, “One’s just out of lock-up, One’s a drunk and a clown, The other don’t say much of anything”. The middle-aged man who takes off one night with his friend Ronnie, “I got sick behind a car, slept against a bank wall, Ate at Annie’s donuts and made it to work on time”. The man who knows his partner is having an affair, “I don’t care if she plays my old Armstrong records to him …, But does she wake him up in the middle of the night, Just to start talking?” And all of these encounters are wrapped up in a typically maudlin-sounding, yet somehow beautifully elegiac music. The thought that this is the last Richmond Fontaine album is indeed almost unbearable. But like the small-town protagonists of their many albums, tomorrow we’ll pick ourselves up and move quietly along. And at least we’ll always have Winnemucca.
Damien Jurado – Visions of Us on the Land
When the first chords of Maraqopa tumbled out of the speakers back in 2012, it wasn’t entirely obvious that Damien Jurado was embarking upon an trilogy of albums. More than that, even though there was always an intensely reflective aspect to his music and lyrics, it wasn’t immediately apparent that the three albums would be linked by a story that reflected upon the themes of inner consciousness and self-revelation. Instead, at the time what was to be celebrated was the ongoing collaboration with Richard Swift that seemed to be wresting a fuller and more confident sound from the artist and one that boded well for the future. With the album cycle now complete, the spiritual quest has reached a certain conclusion. Handily, Secretly Canadian have provided a brief synopsis of the plot for those of us who got lost quite a while back. While the narrative is as deep as the album cover is naive, what is perfectly plain from Visions of Us on the Land is that the musical journey has been fully realised. With Richard Swift at the helm across all three releases, Damien Jurado has emerged as one of the great artists of his generation. Whereas Maraqopa merely dipped its toe into the swirly waters of contemporary psychedelia on tracks like ‘Nothing Is The News’, with Visions we are fully immersed in the fast-moving currents and counter-currents of the genre. Yet, Swift and Jurado never pull us under. The songs are relatively brief, with only one clocking in at anywhere near four minutes. There are also some very welcome eddies. Both ‘Prisms’ and ‘On The Land Blues’ slow things down at a point when we might otherwise be overwhelmed. And the album closes with a trio of acoustic-based songs that wrap up the story with a sense of peace and fulfilment. It’s difficult to do justice to such an immense and highly personal project that comprises the Maraqopa, Brothers and Sisters, and Visions trilogy. Perhaps the best advice is just to listen to the music. Let all the wondrous hooks wash over you and self-revelation will surely follow.
Treetop Flyers – Palomino
Treetop Flyers seem like they should be having a great time. Named after a Stephen Stills song, channelling 70s AM rock, and with a new album mixed by Jonathan Wilson, there’s a sense in which everything is endless sunshine and tie-dyed shirts in the land of lead singer Reid Morrison and fellow band members. But there’s a darker undercurrent to Palomino. Personal circumstances have intervened between this their sophomore release and their debut album some three years previously. ‘Lady Luck’ tells the story of someone who’s been having a run of the bad sort for some time now. “At the helm, a captain in mourning, Going down with broken dreams”. And on the moving ‘St Andrews Cross’, we’re left in no doubt as to at least part of the sadness. “As I look at my mother, she’s crying and sad, And I look at my brother who’s missing his dad”. This is hardly the first album to register feelings of grief and loss, but it’s no less affecting for that. What it all means is that if Treetop Flyers bear more than a passing resemblance to Fleet Foxes, then it’s from the Helplessness Blues side of the family rather than from the Mykonos clan. But Palomino is no Debbie Downer of a record. It fairly shoots out of the starting gates with a wonderful burst of synths on ‘You, Darling You’. It proceeds to gallop along with the magnificent ‘Sleepless Nights’. And throughout there are bursts of sprightly melodies. The duelling keyboards and guitars on ‘Dance Through The Night’ being a particular highlight. It’s easy to pigeonhole Treetop Flyers as a summery-sounding band who wear their classic-era Californian influences proudly upon their sleeve. And that’s all part of their charm. But on Palomino there’s more to them than this easy stereotype would suggest. Life is full of unexpected challenges. And it appears as if Treetop Flyers have recently had to face up to quite a few. For their sake, let’s hope the corner has now been turned. For our part, let’s be thankful for the really great album that has emerged from such seemingly difficult times.
It’s been a slow couple of weeks for interesting new releases, but Friday promises to produce a bumper crop with Emmy The Great, Treetop Flyers, and Jeff Buckley to name but a few. In the meantime, here’s one of my favourite songs of the year so far. It’s ‘Disarm’ by Fossil Collective from their EP, Flux.