Fleet Foxes’ label refers to the band’s style as “baroque harmonic pop.” The first sound heard on their debut release are voices rising up to sing about a red squirrel. Acoustic guitar, organ and banjo blend with guitar riffs that sound like remnants of a Fairground Attraction song. Underneath a distinctly march inflected rhythm keeps the progression of instruments on pace. This isn’t just another Seattle band. That much is obvious. By the time the band begins its crescendo-building harmonies on “White Winter Hymnal” it is clear these five young men possess a sense of music history that incorporates ‘60’s and ‘70’s influenced folk rock as well as something much older.
Fleet Foxes’ songs are loaded with bucolic imagery, shades of light and dark and subtlety shifting moods. Often the lyrics are simple repeated phrases as in “Quiet Houses.” “Lay me down/don’t give in/come to me” is the gist of the message but what the band does with the interweaving harmonies is what gives the words their impact. “Heard Them Stirring” has no language but the combined vocals move the piece beyond the definition of instrumental.
When the band does get down to lyrics the writing is beautiful, simple, and moving. “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” contemplates mortality. “Dear shadow alive and well/why must the body die/you tell me everything/anything true” sings writer and lead singer Robin Pecknold; by songs end his contemplative la la las fade gradually away like the life force he sings about. This subject again is at the center of “Your Protector.” The arrangements of both songs conjure up epic folk ballads with oohing choruses and dramatic backdrops featuring armies of acoustic instruments.
Pecknold credits his parents with infusing his childhood with the music of The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Steeleye Span, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield and Bach. All of these influences inform Fleet Foxes as well as touches from newer bands. “Meadowlarks” features a strong Jim James strain as Pecknold’s high reedy voice echoes through the melody.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “Blue Ridge Mountain” with its’ lovely familial sentiments and evocative poetry - “In the quivering forest/where the shivering dogs rest/I will do it grandfather/wilt to wood and rest.” It is one of the songs that sound like it could be written from personal experience. Fleet Foxes music finds root in the canon of folk ballads that have inspired generations of sensitive souls and reinforces the power of the human voice.