[The New Classics is a reoccurring segment in which we examine our favorite indie releases that are bound to replace our parent’s “classic rock” stash hidden in the attic or the basement. These aren’t reviews, these are unedited testimonies and opinions about why we love what we love. Can we get a witness?]
Words by Jim
Album: Fleet Foxes
Artist: Fleet Foxes
Released: June 3, 2008
Label: Bella Union / Sub Pop
Producers: Phil Ek
A band that slowly builds upon itself over time is just terrific. My classic example is The National. Their debut release was pretty mediocre, the second attempt, not bad, and then it just started rolling. Their past few releases are out of this world. I like when that happens. It’s natural and lovely and it’s easy to fall in a love with a band’s hard work and determination. They grow, you grow, everyone is happy. Contrary to that, it’s totally unnatural for a band to come out of the aether with a debut studio album and just blow everyone away immediately. That’s called pulling a Fleet Foxes and it’s totally awesome. For real.
Obviously Fleet Foxes didn’t just wake up one morning and record their self titled album and become masters of the indie universe, but it wasn’t far off. Early popularity in their hometown of Seattle persuaded them to record a debut, lo-fi, EP of mostly throwaway tracks that hinted at what their debut full length would hold. They played shows. They gained support. They scrapped the money together to record a full length partially in the studio and outside of it. Their Myspace (gross!) page blew up. A&R folks took notice and they soon found themselves with a record deal from Bella Union/Sub Pop, itching to distribute their self-titled. Awesome.
For good reason, kids. My God, what a stunning debut album. From the immediately strange, old-timey harmonies of “Sun It Rises” all the way to the a capella refrain of “Oliver James”, Fleet Foxes is fucking brilliant. The maturity and creativity of the album and the band is what really makes this release stand out as a classic to me. There’s just so much happening and so much of it sounds new and exciting while simultaneously sounding worn-in and loved.
The album begins with the off kilter harmonies of “Sun It Rises”, which quickly depart as a commanding acoustic guitar line breaks through. Enter the beautiful, luxurious, reverb that we’ll come to know and love so much. Clearly (at least to me) the band took a page out of early My Morning Jacket’s book, washing everything with soaking reverb, playing games with our sense of time and space. Often, instruments are dry and upfront, right in front of our face, while the lilting vocals of Robin Pecknold are a million miles away. It’s a simple effect, but executed brilliantly. “White Winter Hymnal” is a beautiful example of how the reverb on this album paints a picture and sets a scene. There’s a crisp, shimmery effect on this song thanks to the ‘verb such that I can almost see the “scarves of red tied ’round their throats” and feel the cold winter air.
The instrumentation and arrangements on the album are tremendous, but undoubtedly, Pecknold’s lead vocals, lyrics, and multitude of backing harmonies are what seal the deal (basically, anything Pecknold is responsible for on this album is outstanding). “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” floors me with it’s beautifully stark arrangement, haunting melody, and heartbroken lyrics: “I don’t know what I have done / I’ve turned myself into a demon” . Intense. His voice is perfectly suited for cascading harmonies centered around folk pop melodies, but serves just as well, if not better, segregated and solo’d out. Hey Robin, that’s a special talent you have.
I can’t pinpoint a certain time when this album became part of my life. There was no “summer of Fleet Foxes, but I do recall I became intimate with the album soon after it’s June 2008 release. Honestly, my lack of memory or association with a specific time is due to the fact that this album saturated my existence for well over a year. That’s truth. I knew all the words of “Blue Ridge Mountains”, I participated in the harmonies of “He Doesn’t Know Why”, and waited patiently for the gentle guitar thumps in “Oliver James”. Sitting in my apartment at the very end of my college existence, this album had a permanent spot on my turntable and in my earbuds.
But why? What makes Fleet Foxes so engaging? Apart from the obviously outstanding song writing and production, it’s the sense of warmth and family that this album conveys. Pecknold sings about his brother countless times, most notably on “Blue Ridge Mountains”; “Oh brother, where do you intend to go tonight / I heard that you missed your connecting flight”. He describes scenes of winter garbed friends and contemplates love and death on “Your Protector”. Pecknold masterfully mixes familial characters with organic, nature-based environments using his bright acoustic guitar and other instrumentation as color and texture. Everything’s organic and don’t you forget it.
Fleet Foxes is one of those albums that will always be partially jutting out of the record collection, the corners worn down, easily accessible for repeated listens. When I’m not sure what to listen, more often than not this album is in the running. How many albums can you say are a refreshing listen years after their release? When I need an escape, Fleet Foxes is there to take me away.
Take a walk in the fields among the meadowlarks with Fleet Foxes. Pick it up at Insound.