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Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Review: Fleet Foxes

Many critics have been suggesting that the eponymous album from Fleet Foxes is the best of the year (from an American group). It is surely one of the oddest. Eschewing a booklet with lyrics or photos, one is instead presented with a flimsy inner flyer, which is mainly a rambling diatribe against holiday snaps, and an argument for the "power that music has, its transportive ability" - as opposed to photographs, which ruin the imagination.

Well, it is hardly transgressive or even novel to argue that music is persuasive - music has charms, as we all know. However, striking out against images is less bland - though vaguely fundamentalist (one thinks of the breaking of stained glass windows, or the blowing up of statues) - and, as well as being politically dodgy, is not well-founded. Many mystics, and others, have testified to the power of a vision, sometimes based on an image, or fetish object, to assist in the concentration on higher truths. Yeats used, for example, a Japanese sword. Photos may sometimes rob us of purer memories, but also, of course, provide memories where none were before. Films are an example of the sublime powers (transportive) of images.

Anyway, the Fleet Foxes album is lovely, and nostalgic. It's very well-textured, and moody - as its editorial note would imply - and has a "haunting" element that comes from the seasonal and elegiac themes - and use of echo chamber, folk instrumentation (especially tom-toms and chimes), and rather old-fashioned production sounds. It feels like a long-lost classic from the late 60s or 70s, maybe via Cat Stevens' "Morning Has Broken" - or some Walker Bros. work - but sadder than that. It really is beautiful songwriting. "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" is particularly moving, as is, indeed, "White Winter Hymnal" (which owes much to Arcade Fire, in theme and tone - surely the subject of winter and childhood treated in such a fashion comes from that Montreal band). "He Doesn't Know Why" and "Your Protector" are the other standout tracks.

This sort of album was more common forty years ago, when quality in songcraft was more prevalent - and when soaring, heartfelt songs needn't be tediously anthemic, but could be offered in a more nuanced fashion. Highly recommended. And yes, listening to this I feel ten again, when I first really began checking out my parents' record collection, and falling in love with old records. I recall my first hearing my mother's 45 of "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend". I think it was the Vaughn Monroe version. Fleet Foxes has trace elements of that potency, that stirring grandiosity, especially in "Your Protector".
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