Archive for March, 2008

Fleet Foxes Are Awesome

March 15, 2008

Fleet Foxes - Sun GiantI suppose I’m a bit late to this party, now that Pitchfork has already given Best New Music status to their Sun Giant EP. But shit, a) sometimes the Fork has bad taste, and this is not one of those times, b) I’ve heard that not everyone reads Pitchfork (really? But don’t you want to be cool? Oh wait…), and c) their forthcoming Ragged Wood LP is similarly great. As in, it is the best album of 2008 so far.

Describing the music is tough. It’s folk music: not 60’s-style folk music, but something older. Of current artists, it most reminds me of Califone, Sufjan Stevens, Grizzly Bear, etc. Kinda folk music with a bit more rock influence than any of the acts mentioned before (although still not very much rock as such… As I say, it’s hard to describe. But it’s definitely livelier). While Califone and Grizzly Bear often sound fractured and muted, Fleet Foxes even at their quiet moments sound like they’re winning. It’s very spiritual-sounding music, in the old “Simple Gifts” sense. Their MySpace calls it “baroque harmonic pop jams.” Not too bad, actually.

Honestly, what they remind me of most (emotionally, not at all stylistically) is Nirvana’s live acoustic cover of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” That’s kinda a bizarre reference, I’m aware, but the two are similar in that both artists seem to believe that they’re something powerful (as opposed to merely ‘pretty’ or ‘personal’) in old folk music classics, and they bring out that power. It’s emotional music, and not always happy music, but it’s never whiney music because it’s not about the personal emotions of the artist. It’s about the emotions of the artist’s culture, the collective unconscious. It grafts a connection between the listener and some much bigger shit.

Many of their songs (such as “Blue Ridge Mountains”) alternate between soft, weary, nearly a cappella parts and big, ridiculously happy parts with the whole band. The emotional tension between the two styles is a lot of what makes the songs work so well. It makes the ‘sad’ here sound more like ‘ loss and redemption’ than ’emo’ and the ‘happy’ more like ‘at one with the birds’ than… well, however ‘happy’ is usually defined.

I actually like the Sun Giant EP a bit more than Ragged Wood. It’s a little artier, has a couple of amazing hooks, and is (of course, given its shorter running time) more consistent. As of now,”Mykonos” is my favorite Fleet Foxes song, due largely to its unusual song structure. It starts as a big, happy tune that slowly breaks apart, before voices enter a capella in the middle with what could be a totally different song. The drum sound is fantastic, and both sections have great hooks. It’s kinda like having two songs in one, but the two sections play off each other in interesting ways. “Drops in the River” and “English House” are also fantastic.

That said, Ragged Wood is the greater achievement. Every song on it is a success. “Ragged Wood” and “Quiet Houses” are big and exciting, and probably my favorite (given my rarely downbeat mood). “Ragged Wood,”like “Mykonos,” sounds like several songs in one, with hooks galore. At least two or three guitar parts that are beautifully combined with the vocal melodies: in parts, it really swings too. “White Winter Hymnal” wins the contest for most memorable hook, a big circling choral bit; while “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and “Meadowlark” are just gorgeous in their simplicity. “He Doesn’t Know Why” and “Heard Them Stirring” sound like they’re going stratospheric.

I could literally praise every song here individually. No two are alike, and none fails.


posted by nerdbound