BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2008: Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes (SubPop/Rhythmethod)

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Fleet Foxes: Ragged Wood
BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2008: Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes (SubPop/Rhythmethod)

With its references to late 60s folk-rock, baroque pop flourishes, close harmonies, art-rock progressions and the jigsaw-puzzle of arrangements for voices and a small array of instruments (all deployed with precision, skill and understatement), this extraordinary album seems an unlikely one to have been embraced by hip rock magazines.
It is is complex and yet poppy, sometimes oddly unfashionable, and at other times clearly walks to the sound of its own (excellent) drummer.
I guess we are living in the post-Arcade Fire days when music of such ambition is to be embraced rather than derided.
Out of Seattle, this five-piece owes more to that city's Sky Cries Mary and Green Pajamas than Nirvana and the grunge scene. Or even the low-fi indie movements from there.
They have astute pop ears (The Association! The Turtles!) and a love of melody. Songs like Ragged Wood (a pop-rollick with an effortless melody) or others where the spirit of Brian Wilson and folksy outfits like the long forgotten Amazing Blondel rub shoulders with Paul Simon and David Crosby are heady concoctions indeed.
In fact you'd be forgiven for thinking they had raided their parents' record collections rather than pulling anything from their peers -- although Polyphonic Spree, Jason Collett, Mercury Rev, Arcade Fire, Band of Horses and a few other contemporaries sometimes come to mind.
This is West Coast pop with part of its heart in the villages of 60s England (maybe even 1860s) and the cafes of early 70s Los Angeles and San Francisco.
It is charming, sometimes confusing and always fascinating.
I seriously doubt that this year there will be another album in a cover by Pieter Bruegel the Elder quite this good.

Remarkable.

(There's an interview with a Fleet Foxer here.) 

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Matt - Dec 18, 2008

In the liner notes to the exquisitely packaged debut long-player from Seattle quintet Fleet Foxes, complete with Bruegel cover art, the band write that ‘music is a weird and cosmic thing, its own strange religion for nonbelievers.’ At the risk of preaching to the converted, given that this wonderful record was released back in June, Fleet Foxes is one aural dish you will keep returning to in what has been a ‘smorgasboard’ decade for the Americana genre. Band of Horses and My Morning Jacket are the immediate contemporary reference-points, but these Foxes tap into a lush vein of baroque folk that sounds timeless. Singer Robin Pecknold has a keen classicist sense of melody, and his plaintive vocal delivery is always high in the mix, drenched in reverb reminiscent of alt-country chanteuse, Neko Case. Although the album as a whole is an embarrassment of riches, the propulsive “Ragged Wood” and the hauntingly wistful “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” are highlights, as is the closer “Oliver James”, whose hybrid of gothic narrative and acapella delivery is utterly bewitching. Be sure to spare a thought for this writer who will be out of the country (and sick with envy) come early January when these retro minstrels take to the stage in New Zealand for the first time.

Stephen Gallagher - Dec 19, 2008

One of my favourites this year. A beautiful swirly smart release. Great songs, great performances. See you at their upcoming NZ gigs!

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