album notes


Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes
June 8, 2013, 10:10 am
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Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes
Released 2008

Sun it Rises: 7.5
White Winter Hymnal: 8.6
Ragged Wood: 8.0
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song: 6.9
Quiet Houses: 7.6
He Doesn’t Know Why: 8.2
Heard Them Stirring: 7.5
Your Protector: 6.9
Meadowlarks: 7.3
Blue Ridge Mountains: 6.1
Oliver James: 6.7
Notes Rating: 7.3909
Commercial Success: 2.2
Cultural Impact: 3.1
Influence: 4.6
Album Rating: 10.6909

Five years ago, the ethereal echo of Fleet Foxes reached mainstream ears. The self-titled LP was finally released, bringing a bouquet of harmonies to listeners everywhere.

Ahh.

It’s amazing it’s been five years since the first vocal strains of “Sun it Rises” first played. But it’s not, because the album seems so weaved into time, sometime in the early 1970s maybe, cozily tucked with those great Beach Boys albums and Crosby Stills Nash tracks. It’s the sound of a warm afghan shielding a worn body by a crackling fireplace, comforted by a sip of whiskey and milk.

At the time the comparisons were obvious. Quick snapshot melodies, gorgeous harmonies, a truly “American” sound of guitars, piano and drums. It’s “Pet Sounds” without the brass section, and a bit more mature of course. But the comparisons were and still are obvious. Hear the echoed guitar chords fade off in “Heard Them Stirring,” then leading to a bombastic section led by a worn electric, and it’s all very much like the “Pet Sounds” title track. Then there’s “Quiet Houses” and its nasty break, influenced directly by the paced patience of “Pet Sounds” tracks like “Don’t Talk” or, of course, the nasty break in “Here Today.”

Like “Pet Sounds,” “Fleet Foxes” didn’t necessarily sell well – at least in the mainstream – or feature any major singles, but its critical importance shone early. It doesn’t, however, have the widescreen all-universal impact of “Pet Sounds,” which quite literally was the sound of a toy-car boy vocal group turning into mature composing artists, embracing musical elements in a way no one had done before. “Fleet Foxes” is basically a nod to “Pet Sounds” with a bit more ethereal focus. Surely the Beach Boys wouldn’t have penned a song like “Meadowlarks,” which slams cold the doors and leaves its singer heartbreaking in the frozen field.

Of all tracks, “White Winter Hymnal” really holds up today. I’d venture that it’s one of the more potent tracks of the last decade, maybe even defining its era of mature modern folk above the likes of Ray LaMontagne and Steve Earle.

Lyrically it’s a winding, gorgeous trip. Listen to how Robin Pecknold twists the vivid winter scene into a comforting reminder of summer: “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 / and Michael you would fall / and turn the white snow red as strawberries in the summertime.” There may even be an allusion to the archangel Michael thrown in there.

I heard “White Winter Hymnal” a few days ago and remembered its beauty immediately. It still sounds fresh, just as it would have in 1971.

The whole album would’ve sounded fresh in 1971, a logical successor to “Pet Sounds,” or even Crosby Stills & Nash’s “Déjà Vu,” in the American canon. At the time of release I was hoping “Fleet Foxes” wouldn’t burn out and become an anomaly of the time, but I think the success of bands like Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers has helped to put the LP in its rightful place as a breakthrough, or more appropriately, as a recapture of a sound that had been lost in music, really, since the Beach Boys abandoned those ethereal pet sounds.