Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Record Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: June 3, 2008
It seems fitting that Seattle quintet Fleet Foxes begin their self-titled debut album with an a capella vocal harmony, considering that their vocal harmonies are probably the best I've ever heard (yes, call me a heretic, but better than The Beach Boys or The Beatles). But harmonies are far from their only strong suit; Fleet Foxes pull from many different musical genres (from '60s folk to '70s psychedelic) and influences (The Beatles to Neil Young to the Shins), to craft one of, if not the best, album of the year.
In order to explain the sheer sonic expanse of this album, a visualization is necessary. Imagine yourself hiking through the Appalachian Mountains. Imagine you hiked the entire morning, arriving at the summit of a mountain about noon. The sun shines down in a clear lapis sky, illuminating the outlying landscape for miles in the distance. The feeling of exaltation induces an involuntarily top-of-your-lungs shout, which establishes your temporary domain over everything within eyesight.
If you blended the beautiful mountainous imagery with this jubilant sensation, combined and manifested the two into an album, the result would be Fleet Foxes eponymous debut.
“White Winter Hymnal” begins with lead vocalist Robin Pecknold setting off a revolving layered chant, which ultimately builds into a captivating verse that is repeated throughout the song at varying levels of intensity. The song closes off with the entire band singing the verse in a kind of chant, transitioning from the strong, “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,” to the softly whispered, “And turn the white snow red as strawberries in the summer time...” “Ragged Wood,” is one of the most upbeat songs on the album, featuring a maraca that keeps rhythm with the snappy percussion, a twangy background guitar, and as usual, plenty of harmonies. Pecknold puts his vocal versatility on display, ranging the gap between the softly sung, “To give to you / The word of the old man,” and his powerful, full-voiced, “Call me back to / Back to you.”
If nothing else, the guys in Fleet Foxes make use of all of their resources. “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” while sparsely instrumented, feels full and satisfying, thanks to the repeated use of the beautiful strumming guitar riff and Pecknold’s enchanting singing (along with other band members’ vocal contributions) and forthright, poignant songwriting (“In the town one morning I went / Staggering through premonitions of my death / I don’t see anybody dear to me”). “Heard Them Stirring” employs an epic, chamber-like feeling, slathering juicy globs of reverb all over the vocal section (it’s hard to really designate the vocals to any particular person in the song), as well as a glimmering guitar line reminiscent on the Grateful Dead and pounding floor tom and bass drum beats in the background. “Your Protector” has a wandering (vaguely Kerouacian) feeling, layering western-tinged instrumentation (including hollow vibratos complements of a woodwind section) with roguish lyrics (“You run with the devil.”). “Meadowlark” switches gears, using an electric guitar riff that sounds like it would be the soundtrack to a woodland coming to life in the morning, as well as deep harmonized humming that at points has the curative effect of Hindu "om-ing".
It is the pairing of the final two songs, however, that truly captures the essence of Fleet Foxes. Together, these two songs play off of each other in a sort of dichotomous accord, shifting from the cryptic, ominous “Blue Ridge Mountains,” into the cleansing, refreshing “Oliver James.” The first of the two features powerful, imagistic songwriting (“My brother where do you intend to go tonight / I heard that you missed your connecting flight / To the Blue Ridge Mountains / Over near Tennessee,”) and a stunning, metallic mandolin riff. The song hits its peak when everything in the song comes almost to a halt, and Pecknold pleadingly asserts, “I love you, I love you, oh brother of mine.” After this point, the song picks up (most notably in the mandolin), and transitions perfectly into “Oliver James,” the closing track. Where “Blue Ridge Mountains,” was dense (both lyrically and instrumentally), “Oliver James,” is sparse and uplifting. Pecknold takes control of the track, singing over only an acoustic guitar (which disappears at points) for the majority of the song, and the reverb only adds to the immensity. His final heartfelt delivery of, “Oliver James, washed in the rain / No longer,” leaves the listener simultaneously content and thirsting for more.
Ultimately, no matter what I write, it is going to be impossible to relay the breathtaking music presented on this record. There is not a lifeless second throughout the course of the almost 40 minutes, and will undoubtedly remain a staple in my CD collection for years to come. Be on the lookout for this band in the future, because they are certainly headed for great things.