By: Dennis Cook
Welcoming one like some lost Carter Family recording that dissolves into an early '70s David Crosby hashish morning fantasia, the debut full-length from Fleet Foxes is majestically inviting, a tintinnabulous cascade of lovely things that combines "hey-nonny-nonny" antique folksiness, starchild sky gazing, liquid twang and a shimmering vocal blend into something massively intoxicating.
Often as much madrigal as modern rock ("Tiger Mountain Peasant Song"), the album ebbs & flows with the smoothness of tides, so unforced and natural that you hardly notice each rise or drop until you're already in motion. Below it all, a craftsman's undertow pulls us, the force of long hours spent honing a sound and building in small, perfect touches – the balalaika on the incongruously sprightly "Quiet House," the military drums of "He Doesn't Know Why" that culminate in the briefest open-top barroom piano coda, the wordless breeze of "Heard Them Stirring." Each cut has similarly cool elements adorning fine songwriting ever bolstered by producer Phil Ek (Built To Spill, The Shins, Band of Horses), who keeps the top down so everything breaths and flutters in the open air.
"Ragged Wood" and "Your Protector" could slot in smoothly on My Morning Jacket's It Still Moves, and really can you pay a modern band a better compliment? Jim James is a tough tiger to chase and this band is hot on his trail. Frankly, one would be hard pressed to choose a better spirit animal. Like MMJ, many cuts wander into places you just can't see coming when they begin but work because of a well-tuned internal logic. To wit, "Blue Ridge Mountains," which begins as a Renaissance throwback, builds to '70s singer-songwriter wistfulness and peaks with a keyboard hook reminiscent of Ryuichi Sakamato's theme to Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence before ultimately pulling us out of the "shivering darkness" with "morning light" ensnared by their music.
While the Sun Giant EP was full of golden promise ("Drops In The River" is one of THE songs of '08), it would have been unreasonable to expect Fleet Foxes (released June 3 on Sub Pop) to be this good. The relentless, pastoral flow is swell but what brings you back are the barbs in their thicket. Sweetness is fine but Fleet Foxes operate on multiple levels, charming and tickling gently, a butterfly lighting on our branches; beautiful, intricate but fragile as a feeling, a prayer, a closely held dream. See if you don't chase them into the woods after being exposed to this one.
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