One of the first things you notice about Fleet Foxes'stunning debut is its simple, guileless beauty. It takes guts to make music this pretty, and FF, already hailed by Mojo as “America's next great band,” have arrived with a complete-sounding instant classic.
They're from Seattle, but they don't sound like natives of grunge central. Nor do they sound like they're from 2008, in fact, for there's an old-world grace to Fleet Foxes'four-part harmonies, and their Baroque-folk songs and bucolic-sounding hymnals are drenched in levels of reverb last heard on Simon & Garfunkel's “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
22-year-old vocalist Ryan Pecknold and FF's guitarist Skyler Skjelset are old school friends of Nordic descent. Between them, they raise their band head and shoulders above much of the competition, Pecknold's spare, emotive writing seemingly plundering some hitherto undiscovered treasure chest, and Skyler essaying sussed, simpatico hooks while slavishly avoiding any guitar tone invented post-1970.
Highlights of the record include the looping, impossibly charming “White Winter Hymnal” and “Your Protector,” which begins with mournful flute motifs before building to a majestic arrangement with shades of Ennio Morricone-esque grandeur. Elsewhere, “Meadowlarks” and “Oliver James” are much more Spartan affairs that allow Pecknold's mellifluous, malleable voice full reign, sometimes in a cappella mode.
So, do we really need another band so obviously in thrall to Brian Wilson, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young et al.? Absolutely. Robin Pecknold is the real deal, and his songs sound like archetypes, not pastiches.
If you liked Midlake's affecting 2006 masterpiece The Trials of Van Occupanther, you'll love this top-drawer debut from Fleet Foxes. Both works are wistful, Arcadian-sounding affairs that triumph because they dare to dream.