Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes(Sub Pop) Buy it from Insound
Heard about The Smell scene in Los Angeles? The national press has been beating it into the ground, elevating mediocre bands to national prominence. This is nothing new. The critical establishment have always tried to lump often dissimilar bands into "scenes" based upon either their location or supposed influences. But this tendency to over-analyze hides the differences in sound and quality of the groups placed in these divisions. Seattle's Fleet Foxes have been lumped in with other pastoral groups who mine inspiration from classicist folk-rock tradition.
But this division doesn't really fit their self-titled debut. In fact, the band's most intriguing characteristic is its refusal to bind itself to any specific genre. Instead, many songs on Fleet Foxes contain an unexpected shift away from their initial arrangements and melodies. In the hands of a less capable band, these quick changes would seem chaotic and uncontrolled. But due to songwriter Robin Pecknold's excellent sense of dynamics, all these transitions are seamless. Tracks like Ragged Wood naturally move between pieces strong enough for an entire song.
The album's flood of ideas is never overwhelming, though. Every track is coated in reverb, which lends a sense of uniformity to the album's running time. In fact, this makes many of the songs on Fleet Foxes sound too samey. The band's excellent grasp of structure unfortunately can't stop the record from slipping into the background. It never quite becomes boring, but surely isn't always interesting. The record's also lacking an emotional center. Besides closing track Oliver James, an affecting solo acoustic elegy for a drowned child, the use of reverb separates the listener from the otherwise transcendent moments offered up by Pecknold. This sense of remove keeps us at arm's length, and in a genre where emotional weight is key, this distance is a serious flaw.
Still, Fleet Foxes can be an extremely engaging listen under the right circumstances. It's a record made for the colder months -- one of the album's best tracks is titled White Winter Hymnal, after all. In summer and fall, though, its flaws are magnified by the warmth that it lacks. Fleet Foxes is certainly a very good record, but it is kept from greatness by its failure to capture the communal feeling of its excellent, buzz-building live shows. The exorbitant praise recently seems to be directed less towards the quality of the music and more for its movement towards nostalgia. Unfortunately this isn't a record that will be remembered in twenty years, but Fleet Foxes certainly have the songwriting skill to make something of that calibre. They're just not quite there yet.18 August, 2008 - 12:08 — Alex Dorf