FLEET FOXES - Fleet Foxes

Picture snow peaked mountains, log cabins, forests of redwood, camp fires...listen can you hear that communal singing? That'll be Fleet Foxes.

The Seattle band have perhaps bagged themselves a place in the albums of the year list with this eponymous album. Their music is close harmony vocals, tons of reverb, meandering guitars, lots of organ and flute and stunning lead vocals from Robin Pecknold to produce a sort of retro-Appalachian, back to nature folk wired with Fleetwood Mac, Beach Boys, Crosby, Stills And Nash and country suffused with a futuristic paganism. Personally, it is also reminiscent of Popol Vuh, the German Krautrock band who used all kinds of instruments: wind and strings, electric and acoustic alike, combined to convey a mystical aura that made their music spiritual and introspective. Fleet Foxes album is lyrical, passionate, fussy and totally endearing.

It's perfectly fitting that the album sleeve is Bruegel's 'Netherlandish Proverbs' as he made a virtue of landscapes populated by peasants. His work is earthy, unsentimental and depicts the rituals of village life - festivals, games, hunts, agriculture were all icons to him. His work is a window on vanished folk culture and Fleet Foxes do spend much of their time looking back in the same manner but also attempt to make their songs have a contemporary nostalgia.

After the scene setting of Sun It Rises, White Winter Hymnal is just delicious. Like the Beach Boys singing over an Ennio Morricone instrumental track. I've no idea what they are singing about but it's a strange little tale: "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." Fairytale harmonies with a sense of place.

The epic Ragged Wood is about as 'rock' as this gets. Nice fuzzy and acoustic guitars, splendid vocals, rattling drums and Pecknold's great vocals alternating with the close harmony backing vocals. It breaks down slowly into a nice guitar passage looping with organ riffs and Pecknold beckoning some lost lover. Its insistent melodies are hard to shake.

Pecknold really shines on the lament of Tiger Mountain Peasant Blues, his vocal, often reaching falsetto scales, weaving in and out of an intricate acoustic soundscape. A quite lovely contemplation about death and mortality. Kudos to Skye Skjelset's guitar playing here too. Quiet Houses is a persistent beat with that lovely lyrical guitar threading as it will whilst the super harmonies echo around. There's a weird little break where an organ, drum and guitar part swirls around, very Beach Boys like, followed by soft vocals. It stridently marches on to its conclusion in a very Brian Wilson way. He Doesn't Know Why is waves of harmonising vocals with another heartfelt lead vocal, great lilting melodies and finished off with a brief piano coda.

The instrumental of Heard Them Stirring again showcases that close harmony vocal style despite having no lyrics. Lovely twangy banjo bits punctuate the mysterious mood and meld with thundering drums and a great guitar lick. A flute dances on the forceful and intense Your Protector, another tale of death and the Devil with that central motif of waiting, forever waiting for fateful destiny to unfold. Meadowlarks and Blue Ridge Mountains are pregnant with pagan and natural symbolism and the latter is played out in contrast with the souless lives of urban societies.

The concluding Oliver James, an acappella vocal triumph from Pecknold, talks of creativity linked to the forces of nature as well as a further meditation on mortality. The washing of a dead body is recounted simply through his vocals and guitar. It may quietly finish with two refrains of 'Oliver James/Washed in the rain/No longer' but the impact of the album itself will remain with you long after, I can guarantee.

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (Bella Union BELLACD167 Released 16th June 2008)

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