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“And, Michael, you would fall
And turn the white snow red as strawberries
In the summertime.”
Fleet Foxes –- a Seattle-based five-piece band –- wrote the songs for their first album, when they were all in their early 20s. While there’s nothing all that unusual about this, the maturity of their music is, however, quite remarkable. Only young men with old souls would be capable of writing and arranging songs that are this thoroughly old-fashioned and authentic. Throughout the album, Fleet Foxes sound wise beyond their years and show an admirable restraint and focus for such a young group. The ancient and rural aesthetic of their eponomously titled debut album suggests that it was recorded in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s as opposed to 2007. When listening to Fleet Foxes, you almost expect to hear the crackles and pops of an old vinyl record. Only the production values sound like a modern-day recording.
Even at this early stage in their career, Fleet Foxes were masters at recreating the sound and feel of a long bygone musical era to the extent that it sounds as if they themselves grew up in that particular time and culture. As the last notes of Fleet Foxes fade out, you’re left with the impression that today's music is barely of any interest to them, and one pictures these five young musicians listening intensely to their parents’ old vinyl records. And what record collections! Fleet Foxes’ source of inspiration is an amalgam of everything from rootsy Americana (The Band), West Coast artists (Buffalo Springfield; Love; Beach Boys’ experimental period 1966-1973; Crosby, Stills & Nash), and East Coast Folk (Simon & Garfunkel) to British Folk/Folk-Rock (Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span), right down to the evocative imagery of the lyrics (mountains, birds, family, friends, adventure, life, and death) and the dramatic tales that invoke old traditionals (“And, Michael, you would fall / And turn the white snow red as strawberries / In the summertime”).
In spite of the fact that these young musicians are so indebted to a classic time period in music history, the various influences didn’t result in a band lacking personality and identity. Fleet Foxes escaped being mere revivalists, having succeeded in creating a rather unique sound that ultimately ends up being very much their own. As with The Beach Boys and many other ‘60s bands, Fleet Foxes’ angelic, otherworldly harmonies are a large part of the attraction. But extraordinary vocals/harmonies do not an excellent album make. Which is why these smart students of songwriting did their homework and wrote a collection of mature and memorable songs. Prior to their first album, Fleet Foxes released the solid Sun Giant E.P. (featuring the essential track Mykonos), but overall they saved their very best songs for this satisfying and self-assured debut album.
Sun It Rises starts off with a short a capella intro and then proceeds with gentle acoustic guitars and brightly shining, multi-part Beach Boys-like harmonies, signifying the first light of the dawn. Tiger Mountain Peasant Song and Meadowlarks are alluring Folk songs with a sparse arrangement, just an acoustic guitar and Robin Pecknold’s quietly haunting lead vocals, who brilliantly convey the pastoral and evocative lyrics (“Through the forest / Down to your grave / Where the birds wait / And the tall grasses wave / They do not know you anymore”). He Doesn’t Know Why was released as a single, accompanied by a charming official music video that shows the band members with a flock of goats, bringing to mind the album cover of The Beach Boys’ 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds, in which they were feeding goats in a zoo. Blue Ridge Mountains opens with gently plucked acoustic guitars and a tranquil, spiritual vocal arrangement reminiscent of David Crosby’s classic 1971 album If I Could Only Remember My Name, upon which the song picks up with an uplifting staccato piano motif...only to end on a note as quiet and dreamy as the beginning. The flute-tinged single Your Protector is a particular high point; adorned with tambourine, an organ half-submerged in the mix, and a trembling electric guitar, it may very well be Fleet Foxes’ most distinguished track. Fleet Foxes is a timeless album by a very special band.