Fleet Foxes is a five-piece folky pop band from Seattle, Washington. In 2008 they grabbed the indie music world by the throat and dragged it around, and they haven't let go yet. They are signed to Sub Pop Records, alongside the likes of Iron And Wine and Blitzen Trapper. In 2006, they released an EP by themselves entitled Fleet Foxes which didn't garner much attention, except that of their future label. When Sub Pop signed them, they released another EP, called Sun Giant, in 2008. Their widespread success came to them soon after this point with the release of their first LP, also self-titled as Fleet Foxes. This album, with its singles "White Winter Hymnal" and "He Doesn't Know Why", created a powerful presence and accumulated a massive following in a fairly short time. Listening to the music, it's easy to understand why. People fell in love with it.
Robin Pecknold: vocals/guitar
Skyler Skjelset: guitar
Casey Wescott: keyboard/vocals
Christian Wargo: bass/guitar/vocals
Josh Tillman: percussion/vocals
It seems likely that the main attraction to Fleet Foxes is lead singer Robin Pecknold's amazing voice. Even during intense shouts, Pecknold's voice is always under tight control, and every syllable is soaked in emotion. The other vocal harmonies complement him nicely, and the acoustic instrumental backing provides the perfect backdrop. Many songs don't have drums, and tambourines are often the only percussion instruments present. To say the guitars and vocals simply suffice would be an injustice; they take turns transcending the music, and they are made for each other.
The lyrics of Fleet Foxes are magical. When they are sad or mournful they have a soft, gentle quality, and become loud and boisterous when dealing with themes of nostalgia, yearning, or fellowship. Elsewhere, these themes are usually touched upon with quiet calm, but here they are celebrated and yelled out excitedly. It's not a false sugary excitement either, but an earthier, old-world recognition of the good in the world. The lyrics have a penetrating, whiskey-like warmth.
The music manages to be romantic without being sappy or feminine, and holy or sacred without being religious. It draws upon blurry, dust-covered memories of Christmas rituals or summer camping trips. There seems to be a timeless wisdom behind it, as if the mingling trails of acoustic guitar notes communicate some great truths or emotions, ones that forbid expression in such vulgar forms as spoken or written word. At certain moments in the album, you can hear them break free, and for the periods in between, they lurk close beneath the surface.
1. Sun It Rises (3:11)
2. White Winter Hymnal (2:27)
3. Ragged Wood (5:07)
4. Tiger Mountain Peasant Song (3:28)
5. Quiet Houses (3:32)
6. He Doesn't Know Why (3:20)
7. Heard Them Stirring (3:02)
8. Your Protector (4:09)
9. Meadowlarks (3:11)
10. Blue Ridge Mountains (4:25)
11. Oliver James (3:23)
Every song on this album is worth hearing and deserves to be cherished. From beginning to end, the album captivates attention, and there are no weak moments even within the individual songs. For this reason it is hard to pick any outstanding tracks. As aforementioned, "White Winter Hymnal" and "He Doesn't Know Why" are the two singles, and enjoy considerable popularity. The latter is about an estranged brother who has recently returned to the family. This is one of my favourite songs on the album. The narrator's fierce love for his brother is not just palpable; it's overwhelming. Curiously enough for an album as consistently good as this, the structure is not very important. Many great albums are dependant on their song order, but for the most part, the tracks can be rearranged without taking away from the original organization. This may even make it a more impressive work, because it proves that the songs can all stand on their own weight without relying on outside support.
Like Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut from early 2008, Fleet Foxes was in Pitchfork's spotlight almost constantly. Eventually both bands' names were everywhere, but in the case of Vampire Weekend, there were also faint cries of "overrated". Not so with Fleet Foxes. They seemed to live up to their hype, which put me off at first. I spent months rolling my eyes at any mention of Vampire Weekend, and when I finally got around to listening to it, I wasn't impressed. It was better than radio, but that's not even a feat. Then came the Fleet Foxes talk, and I went through the same motions, even passing on my first couple listens. For most of the albums I love, something usually attracted me to them that I can't identify, and I find myself compelled to hear it repeatedly until I like it. It was completely the opposite with Fleet Foxes. I listened to "White Winter Hymnal" about four times with no reaction, and then suddenly, it clicked. I listened to the whole album immediately afterward, and I was instantly enchanted.
They've played countless festivals and shows in recent months, and in January 2009 the band appeared on Saturday Night Live, which is a rare opportunity for an indie band. They've made it onto hundreds of "Best of 2008" lists, and even a few "Best Of All Time" list. Fleet Foxes are currently working on their next full-length album, due out in late 2009. It goes without saying that its completion is eagerly anticipated.
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes - 2008 - Sub Pop