FLEET Foxes’ eponymous debut album is a game changer for sure. Certainly, folk rock took a good, hard look at itself after Robin Pecknold’s merry band of musicians came out with this gem, an album which combines elements of traditional folk, baroque pop with a sprinkling of indie rock. The layers of vocals, tribal drums and ethereal vibe all lend themselves to creating a well aged, yet modern folk album.
Right from the off, Fleet Foxes throws out elements of traditional folk music. The cover boasts a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder from 1559, and the song titles (‘Oliver James’, ‘White Winter Hymnal’ and ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ and so on) sound like poems or tales passed down throughout the ages. The opening to ‘Sun It Rises’ even utilises grouped vocals, while ‘White Winter Hymnel’ gradually layers repeated vocals on top of one another, not unlike some traditional song structures. Then you have the more stripped back numbers, such as ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ and ‘Meadowlarks’, which utilise Robin Pecknold’s vocals in a way that of a weary traveller pitched up in a tavern, recounting his tales, even with a few lyrical anachronisms here and there.
And while we’re on the subject, Robin Pecknold’s vocals are part of what makes this album so great. Indeed, the vocals on this album in general are just about perfect. When the band work together, they create these ethereal vocal harmonies that weave gloriously between each other. They’re as much of an instrument on this album as the guitar, drums or bass. But even when the songs are stripped back to Pecknold’s solo vocals, his accented voice really adds a personal quality to the songs, and, especially when isolated, becomes very haunting.
Perhaps one of the more notable examples of this is on ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ where Pecknold, accompanied solely by his guitar, closes the songs with the ambiguous line, “I don’t know what I’ve done / I’m turning myself into a demon”, before trailing his voice off into the distance. Elsewhere, we have ‘Oliver James’, a track that eventually leads to Pecknold’s isolated vocals. The effect is astoundingly beautiful, made even more so by the slight reverb.
But even with the incredibly folk-like tendencies, Fleet Foxes still bring in elements of other genres, most notably indie rock. There are little bits dotted across the album that broaden the horizons of the record. The flutes on ‘Your Protector’ have a very King Crimson-esque vibe to them, while the drums and guitars on ‘Ragged Wood’ have a definite country-swagger to them. It’s all part of the vast horizons of this album that make it so enormously entertaining.
Fleet Foxes is a wonderful breath of fresh air. It’s a record that ages like a fine wine, a classic novel, or a story passed from father to son. It’s an album that can appeal to folk fans, but also to those whose persuasion leans more towards rock music. I personally don’t think the follow up, Helplessness Blues, I was as successful as its predecessor, but the sudden hiatus taken by the band following its release has left both albums to simmer in their legacy, becoming richer and more textured over time.
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