Release Date: Jun 3, 2008
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Pop
Fleet Foxes describe their music as "baroque pop, music from fantasy movies, Motown, block harmonies ... not much of a rock band", which is one way of describing the indefinable brilliance of one of those records that sounds like it has arrived, fully formed, from another planet. Though there are musical touchstones - English folk, late 60s west-coast music (particularly the Beach Boys and Love) - this is the sound of late-night forests, skipping animals, music made by people as old as the hills they dwell in.
You've seen it happen a million times before: a cloud of anticipatory acclaim kicks up around a new band, with breathless exclamations of their imminent takeover of the planet and emphatic insistence on their status as the greatest thing yet. Pumped up by the hyperbole, you buy the album or go to the show, and all that trumpeting is revealed as unfounded, misguided balderdash at best, and PR-driven mendacity at worst. But not this time.Fleet Foxes, the Seattle quintet who have been the subject of countless buzz-band designations ever since Beck lost a bidding war over them to Sub Pop, debuted on their hometown's legendary label with the Sun Giant EP in February.
Borrowing from ageless folk and classic rock (and nicking some of the best bits from prog and soft rock along the way), on their self-titled debut album Fleet Foxes don't just master the art of taking familiar influences and making them sound fresh again, they give a striking sense of who they are and what their world is like. Their song titles reference the Blue Ridge Mountains -- never mind that they're actually from Seattle -- but it's the ease and skill with which they mix and match British and American folk and rock from the far and not too distant past that makes the band's music so refreshing. While this mix could be contrived or indulgent, Fleet Foxes use restraint, structuring their flourishes into three- and four-minute pop songs full of chiming melodies and harmonies that sound like they've been summoned from centuries of traditional songs and are full of vivid, universal imagery: mountains, birds, family, death.
Heard about The Smell scene in Los Angeles? The national press has been beating it into the ground, elevating mediocre bands to national prominence. This is nothing new. The critical establishment have always tried to lump often dissimilar bands into "scenes" based upon either their location or supposed influences. But this tendency to over-analyze hides the differences in sound and quality of the groups placed in these divisions.
Review Summary: For what it’s worth, Fleet Foxes have made an earnest start to the summer, but they shouldn’t define the year with it. Fleet Foxes shouldn’t be a difficult bunch to write about. Following their Sun Giant EP (which saw a release earlier this year) with their self-titled debut, Fleet Foxes is the album that I was fully expecting: an unabashed neo-folk summer album, rooted in Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys with comparisons almost exclusively reserved to Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Seattle’s tourism bureau, take heed! The self-titled debut full-length from Emerald City band Fleet Foxes conjures tantalizing images of sun-soaked mountains (the spacious ”Sun It Rises”) and the serene Pacific (the jangly ”White Winter Hymnal”). Indeed, the Foxes play a fine set of Neil Youngsters on these first two tracks, but they also blaze their own trails once ”Ragged Wood” moseys in on breezy harmonies, transforming the folk rock to beach pop in the pick of a high, tensile guitar string. Hushed and wistful, Foxes evokes the itinerant days of yore…you know, before gas cost four bucks a gallon.
Brandishing the delicate, wood-smoked harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash and rustic reverbed vision of My Morning Jacket's Tennessee Fire, the debut LP from Seattle's Fleet Foxes opens on a brief a cappella hymn, an enchanting displacement that melts into the dazzling psychedelic folk strum of "Sun It Rises. " The quintet's romantic idylls burst bright and soft, wandering reverent with touches of ancient folk ballads on "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" and "Your Protector" that cast against the pop glow of "He Doesn't Know Why. " "Ragged Wood" races alongside Band of Horses, while "White Winter Hymnal" laces a Shins-ian hum into the vocals.
Fleet Foxes begin and end their self-titled album with unaccompanied singing, beginning with a few close harmony lines on “Sun It Rises” and ending with Robin Pecknold’s soloing the final lines of “Oliver James. ” Three and four-part harmonies are used throughout Fleet Foxes, and the band’s decision to emphasize vocals in this way ? not just occasional block harmonies, but literally the first and last thing on the album and the foundation of each song ? is the most distinctive single thing about it. By design, I suspect, those harmonies are not especially complicated, and work in much the same way that the lead vocals work in any other piece of pop music; there comes a point on nearly every song where Pecknold or another band member sings solo, and the transition is pretty seamless.