on 10 May 2008
In a recent interview Robin Peknold, lead singer and songwriter of Fleet Foxes said 'Four people singing is just as close as you can get musically, because you're all standing next to each other and you're all just an interval away. It just reminds me of family.' With these close harmonies Fleet Foxes made quite an impression at the South By Southwest Festival combining choral singing with folk, gospel, rock and pop to awesome effect. And after the glorious Sun Giant EP the sun has risen again on the debut album from the Seattle quintet.
Opener Sun It Rises begins with a bluesy sounding acapella before an acoustic guitar brings in a far more West Coast sound. A lovely beginning. White Winter Hymnal is an amazing track, the opening line repeated like a round as more voices join in to layer the harmonies on top of one another. The track builds before breaking down to just the voices again at the end. Simple but brilliant. Frequent references to the landscape and wildlife give the album a pastoral folksy feel typified by tracks like Meadowlarks and Blue Ridge Mountains. Ragged Wood has that country feel before quietening and allowing the voices to take control, making it two tracks in one really. Robin Peknold sings alone on Tiger Mountain Peasant Song to great effect, sounding like an ancient balladeer; the music both classical and contemporary. He Doesn't Know Why is a great pop song. Your Protector sounds like it could come from Civil War era America and with its flutes reminded me for some reason of Simon and Garfunkel. The album finishes with Oliver James, which tells the sad tale of a drowning. ' On the kitchen table that your grandfather did make/You in your delicate way will slowly clean his face/And you will remember when you rehearsed the actions of/An innocent and anxious mother full of anxious love'. Beautiful.
The album is strong, undeniably beautiful and will make a great soundtrack for quiet summer evenings. To steal a line of Peknold's this is 'The sound of ancient voices ringing soft upon your ear'.
The sticker on the front of this special version of Fleet Foxes debut album says that it now contains all Fleet Foxes songs yet recorded - but it doesn't! CD one contains the first album with no bonus tracks and CD two contains the Sun Giant ep with no bonus tracks - there is no sign of the Fleet Foxes eponymous self-released demo ep from 2006.
The missing tracks are
1. "She Got Dressed"
2. "In the Hot, Hot Rays"
3. "Anyone Who's Anyone"
4. "Textbook Love"
5. "So Long to the Headstrong"
6. "Icicle Tusk"
Anyone expecting to find these tracks here will be disappointed; it would have been nice to have had them added as bonus tracks.
However, that is a minor quibble and what you do get is superb timeless music with many influences - but still able to sound fresh and original. Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset are the main members influencing the band's sound and direction and both are still relatively young - their musical maturity reflecting the diversity of their parent's musical taste. I didn't think I would ever hear another contemporary version of False Knight on the Road, a classic from the Martin Carthy era Steeleye Span (Child Ballad No 3), but Fleet Foxes tackle it and make it their own.
That's just one example of their varied influences; if someone had played me the album and told me it was a lost sixties classic I could easily have believed it. And yet it still manages to sound fresh and relevant to today; a rare achievement. It is classic American music that will stand the test of time - I just hope the follow-up, due later this year, can live up to the expectation. If you have enjoyed BBC4's recent season of Folk America programmes you will love the music here too.
on 29 May 2008
Poor Fleet Foxes, roundly dismissed by a leading UK indie magazine (which shall remain nameless) as "hippies who sing acapella". To which the obvious response is: what's wrong with that? They do it well - very well. Sun Giant, their debut EP, was quite an attention-grabber, and its promise is amply fulfilled by this almost uniformly excellent first album. Suitably, it opens with a Southern church-style acappella burst, oddly propounding a parody of weather lore: "Red squirrel in the morning/red squirrel in the evening." And then, with great assurance, it simply lifts off and coasts seamlessly. Comparisons with (UK-only) label mates Midlake are inevitable, given the shared massed vocal harmonies, acoustic folk influences and weird rural narratives in the lyrics, but really Fleet Foxes are a more accessible proposition: Robin Pecknold's writing packs this record full of grand pop hooks. The reverb is not only in-your-face but utterly spot-on; this is what the Walker Brothers might have sounded like if they'd had access to more modern studio technology, and what an additional joy it is to hear a modern record that is neither ridiculously compressed nor overlong (it lasts just over 39 minutes). Such is the quality that it's impossible to single out highlights; easier instead to identity just a couple of tracks which are slightly below par, including the closing vocals-and-guitar-only Oliver James, this take of which sounds it's trying a little too hard. A better farewell, likewise featuring just Pecknold and guitar, would have been the dazzling Isles, on the bonus CD that comes with certain editions of the album. But otherwise Fleet Foxes' debut is a sheer delight. The band say they've been working at their music for a long time, but as Peely used to say of the Smiths, Fleet Foxes seem to have sprung fully formed from the womb, and this album is all the proof that's needed.
on 27 July 2009
I had this album on download, but wanted a higher quality version, and the extra tracks as well, so this double pack seemed like a good idea. I have no complaints about the music - I've lived with it for quite a few months now and think it's great. My complaint is with the shoddy packaging which seems to indicate a lack of respect for the music and the band on the part of the record company: it is a flimsy cardboard gatefold, but with the openings for the discs on the inner, hinged side. This makes it almost impossible to remove the discs without bending and damaging the cover, which is exactly what happened the first time I opened it - I ripped the cardboard.
Call me old-fashioned, but I do appreciate a well-packaged product, and this is the exact opposite - it's shoddy and poorly designed. There is a credits sheet tucked inside, but that was crumpled before I even opened the cover - the whole thing shows contempt for the customer foolish enough to want a functional, attractive package for their music.
Anyone buying this album back in 2008 or 2009 was faced with the question, is this band really going to be as big as the hype? The music journals had fallen for the band in a big way. The path may well have been prepared for the Foxes by the release of "The Trials of Van Occupanther" from Midlake in 2006. The reviews of that album at the time had focussed on the elements of 70's soft pop - think Fleetwood Mac - in the album. But equally as striking was the vocal harmonising which was well to the fore. Much of the time instrumentation usually from acoustic guitars, some strings, the odd synths, was kept well in the background. This wasn't a sound that was apparent anywhere else in the late noughties. In my view the 70's comparisons were slightly misleading - I don't see that much resemblance to the Mac apart from on two specific songs - and are maybe, more an attempt to explain the sound.
I wouldn't dream of saying that Foxes are directly influenced by Midlake but I suspect our ears were that bit better prepared for their harmonies a couple of years after "Van Occupanther". AllMusic makes reference to 60's artists like Dylan, Neil Young, the Zombies and the Beach Boys. Well I'm not sure if I can see all that. Certainly "White Winter Hymnal" does sound slightly as if it was composed in homage to the Beach Boys but apart from the immaculate harmonies, Beach Boy touches don't really seem to appear elsewhere. I've also seen plenty of people making comparisons to CSNY. I'd go back further, back to the Byrds. The opener "Sun it rises" brings back memories of "Notorious Byrd Brothers" and "Younger than Yesterday", both vocally and in the guitar sound. "Quiet Houses" also is somewhat Byrds like particularly the guitars but with the vocals prominent in the mix. Is this what Roger McGuinn would have sounded like if he'd managed to keep the band going?
Elsewhere I have to say that Byrd comparisons totally disappear. Songs like "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song", and "Your Protector" seem to have something ancient about them, something that goes back before what we call folk music. I can well understand the reviewer, who having heard this was folkish, rushed out to buy it, only to find that the folk club atmosphere with finger picked guitars and hands over ears is almost entirely missing - "Meadowlarks" does bear some similarity to conventional singer/songwriter material but that's about all I can see. Other songs, "Heard them Stirring" is a good example, have aspects of church music about them - this, I must add, is a field in which I have zero expertise - but I can certainly imagine the vaulting architecture, the congregation, and the choir on the side in their gowns.
Going back to those AllMusic comparisons, because comparisons are usually helpful to give you your bearings when faced with what seems like a new experience, Dylan, maybe slightly in the words but definitely not in the music; Neil Young, no; Zombies, no - this would imply something more ethereal and whatever this is it's not ethereal, the boys can be quite full blooded at times. What it actually is, is a very good set of intriguing songs, some of which are quite haunting; they're evocative but you can't always pin down what they're evoking - "Oliver James" definitely puts me in mind of something/someone but I can't think what or who.
Incidentally I would suggest that the aspect of "something old" about the album is pretty deliberate judging by the Breughel picture on the front of the sleeve plus the song listing in the rather attractive, almost ancient-looking, font. This certainly separates the Foxes album from most others on the shelves. Was this planned or was it just the media people's idea of what the sleeve should be? Could have done with some lyrics though.
A lovely album, not really sure yet if it's an all time classic but very, very good. Great songs, very well sung. Isn't that what we want?
on 4 August 2009
After hearing alot of hype about this album I decided to give it a go. On the first listen, I must admit to not being that impressed. It didn't seem to live up to the hype. But then after a few more listens it just seems to make sense somehow. The music and voices just blend together to create a magical, relaxing album. I accept that saying it's relaxing may make some people want to vomit and look elsewhere but it's not what you think! Parts of this record remind me of Bon Iver and My Morning Jacket and it's a comparision well earned in my opinion. I can easily see this becoming a 5 star record with even more listens. I think if you enjoy either of the artists mentioned above or other bands like Grandaddy, Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Beach Boys or The Wrens then there is much for you to enjoy and marvel at on this excellent album. If I was forced to pick my favourite songs then I'd say White Winter Hymnal, Ragged Wood, Tiger Mountain Peasant Song and Your Protector. Highly recommended.
on 4 June 2008
My first reaction having listened to the first few tracks on this CD was to pretend I'd never bought it in the first place. Why? Well, a) I hate wasting money on music (particularly nowadays) and b) the CD is, well, how do you put it, a little sort of 'soft' (as in girly prancing through a field of daisies soft). But I stuck with it, listened through (having securely wound up the car window to avoid embarrassing aural seepage), then listened again. And guess what? I loft soft! But soft in this case means tunes, craft and melodies to humm, all day, every day. To hell with gritty miserableness and hello to the new summer of love!
on 29 August 2010
When I look at purchasing an album I spend as much time reading the 1 to 3 star reviews as the "wow, mega, gushing" 5 stars to attain a rounded view.
There are a surprising number of 1 to 3 stars considering the number of 4 and 5 star reviews, clearly a polarised listening base.
Despite that I bought it, via MP3 download so the "cardboard sleeve" critics do not apply to me.
Overall I really enjoy listening to them, the mix of singing and instruments, with either dominating for a period is very nice and easy listening, good fun.
It sits nicely with my Coldplay, Keane, Mumford & Sons, Snow Patrol etc. collection, they may not stand equally beside them, they all have their own strengths (and weaknesses), but I am not sorry to have bought it.
on 24 January 2016
Vocals play such a primary role in Fleet Foxes' music that Pecknold's lyrics at times sound like merely a delivery system for harmonies, with references to meadowlarks, rising suns, and streams bolstering the rural and placeless evocations. However, these are ultimately carefully and well-crafted compositions. On "White Winter Hymnal", a firelit roundelay that best showcases the band's vocal interplay, the lyrics convey strange, almost Edward Gorey-like imagery: "I was following the pack/ All swallowed in their coats/ With scarves of red tied 'round their throats/ To keep their little heads from falling in the snow/ And I turned 'round and there you go." Who knows exactly what the words mean, but the fairy-tale menace comes through in full color, and Peterson's floor-tom beat and the intricacy of the band's harmonies dispel the threat without diluting the mystery.
Fleet Foxes ends with "Oliver James", another nearly a cappella showcase for Pecknold's solo vocals. As he thumps out a soft rhythm on his Martin acoustic, he sings about handmade tables and long-gone grandparents, howling the chorus "Oliver James, washed in the rain/ No longer." The brief snippet of "Red Squirrel" and "Sun It Rises" invites you into Fleet Foxes' debut, but "Oliver James" doesn't shoo you out the door. Instead, Fleet Foxes let you linger for a few more bars, leaning forward to catch Pecknold's last syllable as it fades into the air. They don't seem to want the record to end any more than you will.
on 28 March 2009
Cosy as an open fire. Fresh as a walk in the snow. If The Mamas & The Papas had turned up at that Welsh cottage in '68 for an impromptu with Led Zeppelin, this is what it might have sounded like. If that analogy fires a blank, imagine the sorts of harmonies that make you warm and tingle, add folk lyrics that are both surprising and touching, and mix up with some flawless production. What you get is original, interesting, and understatedly accomplished. From the mesmeric refrain of White Winter Hymnal, through shape-shifting folk and blues in Ragged Wood and Tiger Mountain Peasant Song, to the hooky West Coast melody and haunting lyrics of He Doesn't Know. These are modern songs that sound like old friends.