Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Irregular Pearl – A term that describes this beguiling album by Fleet Foxes perfectly, and also the original meaning of the word baroque, a label regularly used by Fleet Foxes to describe their sound. The album mines a rich history of baroque pop which dates back to artists such as The Zombies, Beach Boys and Millenium through to contemporaries like Grizzly Bear, Sufjan Stevens and Final Fantasy.
From the opening choral overload of ‘Red Squirrel / Sun Rises’ we are treated to exquisite west coast harmonies, bolstered by slight Hammond, gently strummed guitar, banjo and an array of different instruments. It’s immediately apparent that they have succeeded in their quest for that which they adore – harmony and melody.
‘Fleet Foxes’ possesses a comforting aura that is at once familiar and original. They achieve this by combining melodies that are possessed by the spirit of west coast America circa ’67, with song structures that are anything but conventional. See ‘Heard Them Stirring’ which brings to mind the soundtrack for a wagon train heading towards the frontier, and ‘Blue Ridge Mountain’ where an oriental piano refrain is used as a bridge between the sparse opening, and rousing stomp of the second half. ‘Ragged Wood’ also brings to mind the old west, with it’s rolling snare and train whistle harmonies, resembling an old steam engine ploughing across the plains. It also drops an exquisite minor chord, which wrenches your heart right out of your chest (at the end of ‘Tell me anything you want / Any old lie will do’)
With the baroque pop tag it is unavoidable to draw comparisons with the early protagonists of the style. ‘White Winter Hymnal’ deploys Phil Spector’s echo drenched toms as a backing to a vocal melody that recalls the ‘Maypole Song’ from ‘The Wicker Man’. Also, listen to ‘He Doesn’t Know Why’ and try and tell me that it doesn’t sound like a cover of a Spector produced, girl band, topped off with saloon-style upright piano. Furthermore, after the Tim Buckley, shimmering, folk-rock of the opening, the final third of ‘Quiet Houses’ could have been lifted directly from ‘Pet Sounds’.
‘Your Protector’ covers themes that are repeated through the album – truth (‘Ragged Wood’), family (‘Blue Ridge Mountains’) and a sense of longing – themes that are reflected in its sound, which again demands an unavoidable comparison with the origins of baroque pop. Unavoidable, simply as the pipes at the start are a direct rip off of the intro to ‘Changes’, from The Zombies’ classic ‘Odyssey And Oracle’. It is also possibly the best song to be released this year.
Fleet Foxes combine an almighty plethora of instruments and differing styles that combine to form a unique and cohesive whole. It’s both stark and despairing, lush and soothing, an achievement that is as much a result of Phil Ek’s production as it is the bands compositions. If another album comes along this year that can beat this, then I truly will eat my deer stalker!
Top Tracks – ‘Blue Ridge Mountain’, ‘Ragged Wood’.
Released 16/06/08 on Bella Union