The Fleet Foxes are a rock band that sounds like no other -- imagine a pastoral choir overwhelming a sweeping folk-rock band, in the middle of a sunlit forest in the spring.
That's about the sound of the Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut album -- it's a stream of lush, jangly folk pop, edged with a touch of baroque and country-rock. While their "Sun Giant" EP was an excellent introduction, it's nothing compared to the rough-edged grandeur of the full-length album, with its glorious instrumentation and vivid lyricism.
The only really offputting part of the album is the opening five seconds, when an off-key chorale sings, "Reeeeed squirrel in the morning/Reeeeeeeed squirrel in the evening..."
Then the song suddenly melts into a gentle acoustic guitar shimmering with keyboard. "The sun rises, over my head/Hold me dear, into the night/Sun it will rise soon in the morn..." Robin Pecknold sings with all the solemnity of a choirboy. His voice soars over the steelier riffs and thumping drums, only to settle down with, "The sun rising, dangling there/Golden and fair, in the sky..."
Wow. When an intro is that lovely, just imagine what the songs that follow are going to be like.
In this case, it's the shifting folky "White Winter Hymnal," with its kettle drums and beautiful campfire harmonies ("I was following... I was following... I was following the pack/all swallowed in their coats/with scarves of red tied 'round their throats"), followed by the endearingly energetic rocker "Ragged Wood" ("You should come back home/back on your own now!").
It gets no less endearing after that: Gentle bluesy ballads, jangly folk-pop with lots of squiggly mellotron, sweeping pop chorales, bouncy countryish rockers with lots of intertwined guitars. Things get quieter near the end -- "Fleet Foxes" ends with a trio of lower-key, folkier ballads, sometimes with nothing more than Pecknold's voice and a guitar.
There's something very warm and welcoming about the Fleet Foxes' music, and there's hardly a song on their self-titled album that doesn't contain that sunniness. And though the bittersweet songs focus on the usual topics -- family, love, lost friends -- there's a strong feeling of pastoral beauty, especially since they're sprinkled with meadowlarks, wood-women, "quivering forests," Tennessee and grassy graves.
In fact, the lyrics are crammed with vivid ("And, Michael, you would fall/and turn the white snow red as strawberries") and striking language ("I hold a cornucopia and a golden crown"). At times, the band's lyrics are pure poetry ("Wanderers this morning came by/Where did they go?/Graceful in the morning light/To banner fair/To follow you softly/In the cold mountain air...").
These songs are wrapped in lush melodies of striking music, which happily swirl together folk, classic earthy rock, pop, baroque and a bit of country. And an coustic guitar is the lead instrument here; sometimes it's all by itself, and sometimes it's intertwined with a smooth mix of other instruments -- hollow drums, rippling mellotron, steely guitar, and a hint of harp being plucked somewhere.
And finally there's Robin Pecknold. He sounds a little off-key in the spare ballads, but in the more complex songs he sounds sweet, strong and truly beautiful, especially when he does that soaring thing. And I have to say, I'm a sucker for the band's sunny chorale sound -- the harmonies really make those melodies sound exquisite.
The Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut is one of the best albums I've heard all year, with its blend of styles and bittersweetly lovely songs. Haunting and truly lovely.
on July 18, 2009
Unlike some other great singers (ahem, Eddie Vedder), Robin Pecknold says he loves to sing, and sing he does on many tracks here. On the whole, I wish that there were some more songs with tempo to them. But tracks like White Winter Hymnal, Tiger Mountain Peasant Song and Oliver James make this album a real pleasure. If they ever hook up with a producer that brings some real energy to the songs they just might make a truly classic CD. This comes close.