When was the last time you heard someone use the phrase “high noon” in the context of time? Referring to the time of day when the sun is highest in the sky, having fully risen and just about to start its slow descent, “high noon” has fallen out of favor now that we don’t need to look at the sky to tell the time. Thanks to westerns, particularly 1952’s High Noon, it’s become shorthand for a climactic showdown, a serious reckoning where only one person walks away in one piece.
What, then, is one to make of Dolfiin Alexander’s enigmatic “High Noon?” Whereas the typical showdown at high noon is cut and dry–one man wins, the other man loses–this native of Northern California delights in ambiguity. It’s not at all a lyrics-forward song, and its music soothes and unnerves in turns; an impatient listener might demand to know just what the hell Alexander is getting at, but a little patience is all you need to appreciate this song’s virtues.
“High Noon” is a drifty, dusty ambient folk track that seems to blow in the breeze like tumbleweed. A gently strummed acoustic guitar alternates between two chords that never sound quite as chilled-out as you’d expect; occasionally, a single piano note lands in the mix like a thrown pebble, creating an uneasy harmony with the guitar and Alexander’s vocals. Towards the song’s middle, a queasy, lysergic synth drone buzzes like a cicada in the background, suggesting something threatening but never quite coming to a head.
Alexander uses his voice more for texture than for delivering lyrics; outside the song’s title, he mostly hums or provides wordless “ooo”s that add to the song’s heady atmosphere. His voice is an evocative enough instrument that he doesn’t need to use too many words: it’s warm and woolly, but there’s something distant about it, as though Nick Drake got lost inside a cloud of pot smoke. “How does it feel, babe?” he asks someone unseen, in a brief moment of lucidity. “I feel great, I feel great…” Alexander trails off on that last word, and for a moment he sounds like he’s trying to convince himself.
“High Noon” could have settled for being pleasant, just a simple piece of psychedelic folk. Indeed, after getting on its hazy, sun-baked wavelength, the double meaning of the song’s title becomes more apparent. But there’s a mystery and a tension to this song that makes it more than just a drugged-out daydream. Perhaps the notes of unease have a specific cause, perhaps they don’t; the song certainly doesn’t say anything so straightforward. But Alexander, whose native California has been plagued by wildfires thanks to climate change, has plenty to be uneasy about, and he communicates it in an evocative way. Perhaps that climactic showdown at high noon is coming, after all: the sun beats relentlessly down, something slouches towards Bethlehem to be born, and even the chillest among us eventually notice the billows of smoke on the horizon.