Wednesday, July 28, 2010

album of the day: Fleet Foxes

We first heard Fleet Foxes at the Bridge School Benefit concert, which we've attended the last three years running, thanks to the invitation of our pals Jennifer and Andrew. Every year we hear at least one performer we hadn't heard before, and last year we fell head over heels for Seattle band Fleet Foxes.

To give a sense of their sound, to me the most obvious comparisons are Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, or maybe the Byrds. Robin Pecknold's lead vocals are backed with tight and ethereal harmonies from the other members (Nicholas Peterson, Skyler Skjelset, and Casey Wescott) and often by lush acoustic guitar. They sound absolutely gorgeous, even when they sing about absolutely terrible things. Which they do, in "He Doesn't Know Why," as the prodigal son returns:

See your wringing hands and a silver knife
Twenty dollars in your hand that you hold so tight
All the evidence of your vacant life
My brother you were born

And you will try to do what you did before
Pull the wool over your eyes
For a week or more
Let your family take you back to your original mind

There's nothing I can do
There's nothing I can do
There's nothing I can say
There's nothing I can say
I can say

Pecknold is also good without accompaniment, singing sweetly about death, in "Oliver James":

On the way to your brother's house in the valley, dear,
By the river bridge a cradle floating beside me.
In the whitest water on the banks against the stone
You will lift his body from the shore and bring him home

Oliver James washed in the rain no longer
Oliver James washed in the rain no longer

On the kitchen table that your grandfather did make
You and your delicate way will slowly clean his face
And you will remember when you rehearsed the actions of
An innocent and anxious mother full of anxious love

Fleet Foxes make beautiful, somewhat pastoral music, drawing a lot from old folkie traditions and revivalist 60s folk-rock. They do not sound derivative. They do not sound mannered. I hope for a lot more terrific stuff about awful themes from them.

The album is very warmly, even a bit slickly produced, but don't let that fool you. They sound polished and smooth live as well. The Bridge School gig is held at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View. The sound system has to cover about 76 square miles of lawn, so you can imagine the kind of sound quality one gets for acoustic music. Let's say it lacks subtlety. Nonetheless, these guys sounded beautiful at the show.

As for why they write such incredibly sad songs, well, a lot of sad things happen in the world, ya know. You might as well write songs about it.

No comments: