Last month The Skinny asked us music writers for our annual top ten album choices. I’ll publish my own top ten soon, but in the meantime here’s a reappraisal I wrote for my own nomination for album of the year, Fleet Foxes. (It made #6 in the collective poll.)
Since its June release, Fleet Foxes, by the Seattle band of the same name, has become a coveted artefact in its own right; a tasteful ornament for the discerning music fan’s record shelf, with all its connotations of refined taste and timeless quality. But all the lofty praise and Crosby, Stills and Nash comparisons truly don’t do this record justice. While you buy your own copy and observe the perfectly apt Bruegel scene that graces the cover, let me add yet more needless sycophancy. You place the record on the turntable (a gramophone would be preferable) and drop the needle onto its well-hewn grooves. Red Squirrel, the brief intro track, crackles on like a 1940s field recording from an American religious camp.
There follows the crisp guitars of Sun It Rises and then the defining feature of the Fleet Foxes sound: their glorious three-part vocal harmonies. The next track, White Winter Hymnal, is the keynote example of their pre-pop, pseudo-hymnal songwriting style, while its successor Ragged Wood – at first a straight-up piece of indie – becomes a very different song by its end. Like Midlake’s The Trials of Van Occupanther, lyrically Fleet Foxes really is timeless, pastoral, pre-iPod: were it not for the line ‘I heard that you missed your connecting flight’ in Blue Ridge Mountains it could have been written a century ago. And like Midlake, Fleet Foxes somehow sound better in winter. So when you don your scarf and gloves and head out to the record shop, just be careful not to fall – “and turn the white snow as red as strawberries in the summertime”.
Postscript: One of my friends slagged me off for using the word ‘sycophancy’ in this review. I think it’s a good word, but I would never use it in everyday speech. It would be quite cool to end up in Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner though. What do you think? Is this review too pretentious?