an instant classic...
Janne Oinonen

14:40 3rd June 2008

More about:

Unless you’ve spent the post-SXSW months in a particularly remote cave, you will have heard of Fleet Foxes by now. Drenched in near-hysterical acclaim since their triumphant Austin performances to the point where you’d expect the Seattle five-piece need to shovel away the several layers of superlatives blocking the drive every time they leave the house, the hype has by now reached such a scaling peak where the reality is almost certain not to match surreally bloated expectations.

Miraculously, this self-titled debut doesn’t just match the florid praise. It actually makes the hyperbole dished out in family-sized portions sound unnecessarily restrained. Imagine Beach Boys swapping the California sunshine for a stroll through enchanted forests populated by squirrels and birdies whilst keeping the heavenly harmonies intact, Love’s West Coast paranoia opus ‘Forever Changes’ infusing its baroque pop arrangements with the creeping darkness and sense of otherness familiar from finest psychedelically frazzled precursors to the ongoing freak-folk boom, or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young ditching ‘the man’-baiting freak flag flying in favour of longing-filled accounts of life, love and death in mysterious rural communities buried deep in  the sepia-tinged past, and you’ve a platter with a capacity to catapult listeners to a mythical fantasy world unmatched since Texan labelmates’ Midlake’s ‘Trials of Van Occupanther’.

Although the band’s most audible inspirations may reside in the golden oldies file, Fleet Foxes aren’t burdened with retro-minded tendencies to pastiche past masters. Complex in structure yet winningly sparse in execution, these 11 soulful, potent and unfailingly substantial tunes might have been teleported from the distant future where bands are capable of flitting between such oft-visited but diverse points of reference as vintage West Coast pop symphonies, permanently high & harmonious hippie dreams and chilliest of antique folk balladry without ever once losing their identity, with timeless results that retain their freshness, disarming beauty and near-magical magnetism that balances between wide-eyed wonder and acute sense of dread throughout.

Of the highlights, opener ‘Sun It Rises’ constructs a cloud-hugging sonic cathedral akin to extraterrestrial longhairs jamming around the campfire. The reverb-fuelled heartbreak of ‘Ragged Wood’, reminiscent of the dreamy peaks of ‘At Dawn’-era My Morning Jacket, could be a freshly excavated artefact from the very highest echelons of late-60’s songcraft, whilst the feather-weight groove of ‘Quiet Houses’ displays Fleet Foxes’ pop chops. The grand ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’, the chill-inducing prettiness of ‘Meadowlarks’ and the poignant death lament ‘Oliver James’ prove the band can build an unstoppable momentum with little more than a sparsely plucked guitar and those vocals that aim for – and reach with impressive ease – the stratosphere.

Add to this the heavy-psych murder ballad ‘Your Protector’ and ‘Heard Them Stirring’, a spooky, cosmic wordless opus reminiscent of David Crosby’s nocturnal downer masterpiece ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’, and you have an instant classic that is completely impossible to both summarise in any satisfactory way and shake off once it grabs a hold.

More about: