Thursday, June 5, 2008

Record Review: Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes

NQL Rating: Very Good

From the opening old-timey crackle and sun-kissed guitar strums of “Sun It Rises,” it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Fleet Foxes have a wonderful debut album on their hands. The Seattle-based quintet are no strangers to success, though, as their previous EP, Sun Giant, had bloggers and music critics alike panting for more hymnal pop songs when it was released back in February. Fortunately, the wait for new music wasn’t very long, as Fleet Foxes’ self-titled full length made its way into stores this Tuesday, a mere four months later.

There’s no denying the fact that Sun Giant is a hard collection of songs to live up to; even a casual listener knows how incredibly solid those five tracks are. But, Fleet Foxes certainly tries its hardest to one-up it, and, for the most part, is fairly successful. Track 2, “White Winter Hymnal”, is the standout song among the ten others, boasting a haunting a-capella opening with all five Foxes singing, which is closely followed with brushes of percussion and soft guitars, before booming open with pounding drums, hollow guitars, and beautiful vocal harmonies. It’s one of those songs that is damn near impossible to get sick of.

While none of the other tracks on Fleet Foxes quite match the beauty of “White Winter Hymnal”, there are still a few other gems on this album. The rollicking melodies of “Ragged Wood” and Band of Horses-esque vocal acrobatics from Foxes singer, Robin Pecknold, are inspiring. The interweaving guitars and exuberant reverb on "Quiet Houses" and the warm organ sounds on "Your Protector" also add nice elements to the record by giving more depth to Fleet Foxes’ pastoral sound.

The only downfall of Fleet Foxes is the dragging second half of the album. Perhaps that's the difference between a five-song EP and an eleven-song full length, but Fleet Foxes appear to have more strength when they have fewer songs to worry about. This letdown is shown right before the end of the album, with the boring “Meadowlark” and the even more forced “Blue Ridge Mountains” that directly follows it. It’s not that these two tracks are bad, they just simply don’t show any new sides to Fleet Foxes palette, and when you’re trying to make an impact with your debut album, you’d best want to bring your A game.

Thankfully, Fleet Foxes is saved by closing track, “Oliver James,” a stunningly intimate song that is structured around Pecknold’s earnest vocals and doesn’t feature much more than a soft acoustic guitar melody in the background. It’s a bold way to close an album and not many bands could pull off such a statement, but Pecknold knows exactly what he’s doing as his chilling voice sings out “Oliver James / Washed in the rain/ No longer” in the last few seconds of the album. Ultimately, Fleet Foxes may not be as strong all around as its EP predecessor, but it’s hard to fault a band this amazing for a few rookie mistakes. Keep an eye on these Foxes, because they’re definitely not retreating anytime soon.

--Anna Deem

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