Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes/Sun Giant (2008)

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes/Sun Giant (2008) *

On first listen I took Fleet Foxes sound for granted. I didn't get what they hype was about that surrounded the Seattle band, they just sounded like folksy group that were doing what others have done before and wasn't that impressed. But after seeing them at Sasquatch I have to admit that my appreciation for them has grown immensely. That's not to say that I'm still thinking they pulled a Vampire Weekend last year and got a little too over-hyped, but it was deserved to say the least (IMO I think Gaslight Anthem deserved more of the praise, but that's when we get to the G's people).

So lets break it down why Fleet Foxes has left an impression on the music world. They have a unique sound to say the least, a combination of impressive vocals from singer Robin Pecknold, his baroque poppiness invested into their folksy sound that is matched by the wispy guitar and harp throughout the album. Never before has an album been able to match space so well, creating a very unique area where this music exists and the instruments are free to float in and out of each song in such a heavenly way. Listen to the guitars and vocals mix together on "English House" and it's apparent right away how important the building of each song is to the band. They're quick not to use the gimmick over and over (thus not making it a gimmick) and instead use it as just another instrument.

Of all the songs from Sun Giant, "Mykonos" stands out the most. The breathy chorus lifts Pecknold's beautiful voice to, again, a heavenly state, creating the most pop-like song that's been made in some time in the folk tradition. The breakdown in the middle of the song slows everything down. "Brother you don't need to turn me away/I was waiting down at the ancient gate/You go wherever you go today/You go today" they sing in perfect harmony, making the song more like a battle call-to-arms than you're simple folk song of the past.

On their debut album the songs are much focused, more of this quality of songs. Here they change their style a bit more and take light risks, but risks nevertheless. "White Winter Hymnal" starts off with a beautiful opening a Capella sing-song that carries the whole song, joined by the whole band and continued through the song. Folk rock has never sounded like it could fill an arena more than here. Repeated listens of the album will showcase these qualities more, the little touches throughout the album of how seamlessly it flows from their giant whispering anthems to an immediate breakdown with the whole band in full force.

They also change their style up more to take full advantage of their strengths. "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" focuses on just the lead vocals and a solo guitar, still floating in space but more somber than many of their other pieces. They prove that they don't need to do the whole choir thing every song to still craft a lovely piece of music. Or the more awkward (in a good way) "He Doesn't Know Why," that staggers to it's eventual beat in an unconventional way. "Your Protector" is a humble cry to wanting to keep a love as close as possible even though that love wants to run free. Their imagery the lyrics evoke are matched by the rustling guitar and strings in each song, the building drum in the back that makes each song more of a war march than a ditty.

If there's anything that FF suffers from it's their choice of style. I'm not implying that they should go out and make a punk rock opera anytime soon, but because each song follows the same pattern that makes it so good is also what makes it suffer too. "Meadowlark" is one of the only lulls in the album, not because it is a slower song (even by their standards) but because it never seems to find itself. Their album changes this pace up quite a bit to the point that it's masked but still present, which will make for interesting releases from the band to come. For now it's a great way to start and sets the stage for what is to come from Fleet Foxes. Hopefully they can stay their own unique path instead of using their gimmick to its full extent to become exactly that, utilizing their poetic lyrics and beautiful harmonization to continue to create such pretty, complicated songs.

* I combine these albums into one because their EP was later released as a bonus disc to their debut album, so it makes sense to simply combine the two.

Standout Track: "He Doesn't Know Why"/"Mykonos"
Overall Rating: 8.6/10

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