This is probably one of the toughest reviews I’ve ever written. Ever since I first listened to this debut full-length from Seattle’s Fleet Foxes, I’ve been wondering how in the world I would be able to string together a couple (or more) sentences that would do justice to this masterpiece! For a band to be able to meld the rustic melodic beauty of Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks’ Smile and the heartfelt echoes of 70s singer-songwriter movement, is almost unbelievable.
But here they are, eleven tracks of magical songcraft, heavenly harmonies (even a cappella), inventive instrumentation all delightfully delivered by the talented tenor of Robin Pecknold. And it doesn’t even need a full-blown arrangement to hit you between the eyes. Case in point – the plaintive Tiger Mountain Pheasant Song, where Pecknold – only with classical guitar accompaniment intones, “Dear shadow alive and well/How can the body die/You tell me everything/Anything true”.
Truth be told, the gems are everywhere and the melodic creativity is limitless as Pecknold and co mine the rich vein of archaic folk and baroque music to produce an ecstatic blend of the old and the new. Best of all, as a rabid Beach Boys fan, it is fantastic to pick up all the prime references to some of the finest work that Brian Wilson ever put together. Along the way, there are also pointers in the direction of Neil Young, Peter Gabriel/Genesis, Fairport Convention, the Zombies, XTC et al.
So, it’s suffice to declare that there are no duff tracks here as even the instrumental Heard Them Stirring resonates with such power. Push comes to shove, I would say that my personal highlights of this magnificent album would be White Winter Hymnal, Ragged Wood, He Doesn’t Know Why, Meadowlark and Blue Ridge Mountain. Which doesn’t detract from the quality of the rest.
It’s only June but I’ve made up my mind – Fleet Foxes is the album of 2008.
… still there’s more …