Friday, November 13, 2009

Top 25 Albums of the 2000s, #13 - "Fleet Foxes"

The trend of eponymously titled albums continues with "Fleet Foxes," the band's magnificent debut album, released just a little over a year ago.

Last November 3, I wrote about the album in a post I called "How Fleet Foxes Saved Me From the Presidential Campaign." It was a rant against the banality of the then-ongoing presidential campaign, and the morass into which the public discourse over that campaign had sunk (a morass that we will probably revisit next week, when Sarah Palin's book is released). But within the ranting, I also made some reasonably intelligent (or so I think) comments about the album:

"...more than any other single piece of music I’ve listened to in the past month, Fleet Foxes has provided an avenue for escape from the insanity of this campaign. Based in Seattle, the band is probably about to hit it big, because if Rolling Stone writes a feature on you, that usually means something. The band describes its music as “baroque harmonic pop jams,” and that description is as apt as anything that I could come up with. From the first strains of “Sun It Rises,” which sound like something straight out of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, to the end of “Oliver James,” the album is a perfectly realized piece of music, from a band that sounds as if it has been recording for twenty years, rather than just the few that it has been together.In the Rolling Stone article, band leader Robin Pecknold makes reference to The Beach Boys and Pet Sounds, and you can hear some of that influence on Fleet Foxes, particularly in the harmonies and the falsetto singing. On some songs, particularly “White Winter Hymnal” and “He Doesn’t Know Why,” the only way to do the vocals justice is to call them breathtakingly beautiful.

Interestingly, although the band is American, the record makes me think of some British artists of long (and even longer) ago: Aztec Camera, Big Country, and even Nick Drake.The musicianship is also extraordinary, although it may be too laid back for some – think of a tight as a drum Grateful Dead, and you get the idea. There is nary a note out of place, and that might be off-putting for some. But when you’re looking to escape a poisonous atmosphere like the one surrounding the presidential campaign, I can’t think of a better alternative. The middle section of the album – “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” through “He Doesn’t Know Why” – is probably its strongest, though right now my favorite song would have to be “Blue Ridge Mountains.”

The line I'd point to is "perfectly realized piece of music," and it's a claim that I'd stick with today. "Fleet Foxes" has that rare ability to transport the listener to another world - one where the stress and the little difficulties of everyday life just melt away. There isn't a weak song on the album, and one can only hope that the band didn't use up all the good ones on the debut. But even if that proves to be true, there will always be "Fleet Foxes" - my pick for the #13 album of the decade.

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