For five guys from rainy Seattle — the land of perpetual autumn — Fleet Foxes make music with a decidedly sun-soaked personality. In fact, if records can invoke seasons, consider their self-titled debut the soundtrack to your spring. Fleet Foxes practically blooms off your speakers, its verdant folk-pop simmering in big harmonies and even bigger melodies. Each track, from stunning opener ‘Sun It Rises’ to the meditative ‘Oliver James’, seems to be grinning, daring you to relax and enjoy yourself — to bring a bottle of wine to the picnic.
Which is not to say that Fleet Foxes is simpering or simple-minded. Particularly for such a relatively inexperienced band, their debut is masterfully arranged. Anyone familiar with their Sun Giant EP (released in February but recorded after the LP), will know the deal here. No note goes wasted; no bar is left to meander.
And like the EP, the focus stays rightfully on the vocals. Singer/guitarist Robin Pecknold has a near-McCartnian command of melody — especially on the dizzying ‘He Doesn’t Know Why’. Pecknold is also a close cousin to My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. Both singers have a penchant for reverb, impressionistic lyrics and bold, circular vocal passages. But unlike the latter, Pecknold can make use of his bandmates’ massive harmonies, which — surprisingly — Fleet Foxes manage to fit into tighter, smarter songs. ‘Sun It Rises’ begins with a few seconds of what sounds like a camp-fire sing-along recorded with a four-track, shifts to a series of fat harmonies sung over acoustic guitars in waltz time and adds an electric guitar solo over delicately-plucked banjo, before shifting back, finally, to full-throated a cappella — and all this within three minutes.
To their infinite credit, Fleet Foxes have produced an album that is at once relaxed and studiously crafted. Blending Crosby Stills Nash & Young, the Byrds, Bert Jansch and other favorites from your parents’ record collection, Fleet Foxes is a warm blast of nostalgia. Yet it never feels worshipful or forced. After such a dreary winter, it’s entirely necessary. “Come down from the mountain. You have been gone too long,” Pecknold commands on ‘Ragged Wood’. “The spring is upon us — follow, my only son.” Yes, sir.