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Fleet Foxes and the Future of Mankind

CD Review

Jun 25, 2010
Kimmy Sophia Brown

Last year when she was away from home, my daughter, Grace,sent me a CD by Fleet Foxes. She said in a note, “this album has become my favorite heart comforter, my imagination assistant and soothing music friend.” Because we share a lot of the same musical taste, I was excited. I listened to it on the way to the grocery store and I ended up sitting in the car listening to the whole thing. These five young men have created a terrific musical sound -- Robin Pecknold, Skyler Skjelset, Christian Wargo, Casey Wescott and Josh Tillman. The liner notes talk about their experiences growing up and walking on beaches around Puget Sound and about the phenomenon many of us have experienced of associating certain pieces of music with specific events in our lives.

My first impression of the album, without zeroing in onany particular song, was the feeling of how each cut built upon the next, with each song expanding the listening experience. It affected me in a way similar to the way I feel when I read a Paramahansa Yogananda meditation. I get a sense of emotional expansiveness.

The first cut on the CD is a short a capella piece, “RedSquirrel”, that sounds like a spontaneous, Appalachian harmony, recorded barefoot from an acorn-strewn holler. However, the overall album reminds me more of the multi-textured atmosphere that Brian Wilson created on some of the Beach Boys’ best pieces, involving intricate harmonies and the interesting use of drums and supporting instruments. I read once that Brian Wilson was striving for a warm and innocent sound when he produced the Pet Sounds album, and some of that feeling is present in Fleet Foxes’ music.

“White River Hymnal” starts out as a round and flows intoa robust piece that builds and then returns to an a capella round. “Ragged Wood” is the kind of joyous song you want to listen to blasting from the speakers as you drive with the car windows open and sunlight streaming down through the trees.

“Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” is gorgeously poetic withimages of birds and forests and questions about death.

 Wanderers this morning came byFleet Foxes

Where did they go

Graceful in the morning light

To banner fair

To follow you softly

In the cold mountain air

Through the forest

Down to your grave

Where the birds wait

And the tall grasses wave

They do not

Know you anymore

“He doesn’t know why” could be the brother of “TigerMountain Peasant Song”, another melody with Robin’s compelling voice full of longing. It might be a song about a prodigal son.

Penniless and tired, with your hair grown long

I was looking at you there and your face looked wrong

Memory is a fickle siren song

I didn't understand

In the gentle light as the morning nears

You don't say a single word of your last two years

Well you will be, you've reached the frontier

I didn't understand, no.”

“Heard Them Stirring” has no words, just vocal harmonieswith guitar and drums that lift and transport with harmonies reminiscent of the Moody Blues.

Robin Pecknold’s vocal on “Your Protector” has elements ofChris Cross, Jackson Brown or M. Ward, but then goes apart from them. The driving tom-toms by Nicholas Peterson are very stirring, as well as a wonderful arrangement of flute, vocal harmonies and Dylanesque organ. It would work really well in the soundtrack of a western movie.

“Meadowlarks” starts out with a simple guitar and vocaltune. It’s a nice enough melody that could have been written by anybody, but then it flows into an unexpected place, as if through a door at the back of an open wardrobe.

 “Blue Ridge Mountains” begins with another flawless vocalharmony, sweet and high, supported by the deft guitar playing of Skye Skjelset. Again, the poetic images are evocative.

 In the quivering forest

Where the shivering dog rests

Our good grandfather

Built a wooden nest

And the river got frozen

And the home got snowed in

And the yellow moon glowed bright

Till the morning light

Fleet Foxes are in their twenties and I’m in my fifties.It seems like we’re from different generations, but from the perspective of, say, the Egyptian Pharoah, Shishaq, we’re actually almost the same age. We were all born during the twentieth century so age is relative!

The evidence of an eternally expanding universe, and thebelief that mankind will sort out its problems and fix our imbalances comforts me as I hear the unstoppable flow of the creative force. We are part of a universe of vibrations. In fact, Brian Wilson was on to something when he wrote and arranged “Good Vibrations”. It’s just one level of the human spectrum but it is symbolic of a greater theme.

Ironically, I received the Fleet Foxes CD in the mail onSeptember 11, the 8th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in NY and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. In contrast to the fear or hopelessness that people sometimes feel when they think about senseless acts of violence, I feel compelled to say that it’s important to resonate with optimism about life and not allow thoughts about the current world situation to derail our hope - kind of like Peter Pan encouraging people to keep clapping to prevent the fairies from dying. It feels so much better to believe than not to believe.

Fleet Foxes have birthed this very fine album of originalcompositions that crackle with energy and pulse with heart and vigorous hopefulness. I think their music contributes to the realm of optimism and meaning.

You can find out more about Fleet Foxes at:

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.

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