The hills are alive with the sound of music! Fleet Foxes, though well-versed in their ’70s-based folk and rock roots, neither borrow, beg nor steal from their influences, but rather build from them, creating a broader, more rustic sound uniquely their own. In their self-titled debut LP, this Seattle-based quintet uses non-autobiographical storytelling and instrumentation to paint tales of nature, love, loss and death in your mind that will give Seattle’s “Emerald City” nickname a whole new perspective.
Although Fleet Foxes describe their sound as “baroque harmonic pop,” they also have tinges of sounds spanning a diverse range of genres from choral-pop, Appalachian/Celtic folk, and gospel to even the likes of Gregorian chant. The quintet includes Skye Skjelset, J. Tillman, Casey Wescott, Christian Wargo, and front man Robin Pecknold, some of whom were former members of Crystal Skulls, Pedro the Lion, and Seldom. Pecknold hired a family friend, Phil Ek, famous for his previous collaborations with The Shins, Built to Spill, and Modest Mouse, to produce the album.
The album’s opening track, “Sun it Rises,” chimes with an opening chant in four-part a capella harmony, a nod to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Just like that pair of “vintage” jeans you bought – pre-ripped, tattered, and torn – the album’s use of heavy reverb (specifically on this track) creates an anti-urban aesthetic and proposes an idea much older and more organic than it actually is. Next, Fleet Foxes gracefully delve into generous amounts of repetition and rich roundelays in “White Winter Hymnal,” a two-and-a-half minute piece almost as vibrant as the Pieter Bruegel painting which graces the album cover. “Ragged Wood,” a highlight, nostalgically recalls a romance, with the narrator finally aching for his lover to “lie to me if you will/at the top of Beringer Hill/tell me anything you want/any old lie will do/call me back to you.”
Fleet Foxes songs have many narrators, often telling their stories from experience in a first-person perspective. In “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” the narrator deals with the loss of a loved one, feeling alienated and isolated from everything surrounding him as he internally reflects, “dear shadow alive and well/how can the body die/you tell me everything/anything true.” Just as the narrator feels isolated and lonely, Fleet Foxes are able to link the feeling of isolation with the solitary sounds of mellow finger-picking and a simple vocal melody so hauntingly beautiful that it will make you quiver almost as much as the vibrato in Robin Pecknold’s passionate vocals. The last track of the album, “Oliver James,” is another piece comprised of simple guitar picking and a vocal line. His voice trails off on the last phrase in an unexpected manner, leaving the listener only craving more. Seems we’ll all just have to wait until Fleet Foxes’ sophomore album to see what happens next!
Though Fleet Foxes are an independent band (on the Sub-Pop label), they are continuously gaining a larger fanbase, so why not hop on the bandwagon and check them out? For further information or audio tracks, check out their page at www.myspace.com/fleetfoxes.
Essential Fleet Foxes: “White Winter Hymnal,” “Ragged Wood,” “Heard Them Stirring”