Bella Union Records, 2008
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/06/2008
The summertime brings forth a multitude of albums in what normally ranks as one of the more high profile periods of the release schedule. September, in this reviewer’s humble estimation, is the month that usually provides the absolute best ratio of quality to quantity, but there is an excitement in the air around this house when May rolls around. Most of the records released won’t ever see the light of day in my queue, but that is primarily due to the sheer quantity of material made available.
The early summer returns had Fleet Foxes as an album of the year candidate. Momentum for the band of the same name had been building for quite some time, an EP released earlier this year attracted a great deal of attention and whetted the appetite of the critics and consumers. In early June, Fleet Foxes was released, and the anointing of the band was complete.
To be sure, there is much about this album that attracts the music connoisseur. A work from the Northern Renaissance adorns the cover, setting the appropriate tone and mood for the work contained within. The aforementioned hype surrounding the band provides easy cover for those to join in and exclaim, “Great album!” And to be perfectly frank, Fleet Foxes never falls into any definable genre or cliché.
All these factors usually would combine to result in a great album, but by the time the final note plays, I was left somewhat underwhelmed. Fleet Foxes is a band that has definite room for improvement, and could legitimately end up as one of the more talented acts out there; their live shows are quickly gaining recognition. Don’t necessarily give into the word of mouth surrounding this album, though.
Credit must be given where credit is due, and in this instance I cannot emphasize enough the vocal talents of the group. It would not be an overstatement to say the group can rival The Beach Boys, or Crosby Stills Nash & Young in terms of pure harmony. Whilst the opening seconds to “The Sun It Rises” contain a throwaway melody that does not impress, it does not take long before the lush, tight harmonies of the group come into play. From song to song, I was taken aback by how beautiful the arrangements were; “Heard Them Stirring” invoked comparisons to Brian Wilson’s “Our Prayer/Gee” from SMiLE.
The adjectives “folk,” “pastoral,” “rustic,” have been played out to death when others have attempted to describe this album, but allow me to cheat on this end, because they fit quite well. Fleet Foxes lies somewhere into between the realms of the rock and pop genres, which is a fine place to be in this case. There are no blistering guitar solos or riffs that shake your soul, yet there are no programmed beats or overused musical clichés either.
As I sit here, poring over what has been written so far, I once again have made this album sound flawless. That is not the case. If anything, my initial shock and enjoyment wore off, and my critical eye turned towards the album. The word here to best sum up the negatives would be substance. It is not a terrible thing to have a record that does not attempt to make specific points on politics, or life in general, but Fleet Foxes rarely says anything worthwhile at all. The beautiful harmonies form words and lyrics, but there is no depth to what is heard. There is a great deal of talk of the sun, the winter, the landscape, etc. Admittedly, the style helps to cover up these indiscretions, but when all is said and done, the material here leaves one emotionally at the same level as when it began.
The technical prowess of Fleet Foxes provides some solace; they have the potential to get much better in their craft as time goes on. This would be one group that might just overcome the so-called sophomore slump. This is a gorgeous record, understated and occasionally reaching levels of greatness. For a taste of something different, look no farther than Fleet Foxes.