Friday, December 05, 2008

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2008: Number 26

The four part harmony that opens Fleet Foxes' debut album is straight out of Crosby Stills Nash & Young. So is the rest of Sun It Rises, really. Yet as the song progresses through cymbal splashes and a needling guitar line, you get the idea that as out of time in 2008 this may be, it's struck a pretty significant chord. Pristine clean on the surface but rusty and musty underneath, this kind of bucolic harmonic trad-American folk grows and grows and what could easily have been an exercise in purposefully looking back to no great development beyond Pitchfork and blogland pitches its flag right in the midst of a modern solemnity.

It's peculiarly American, this sort of vocal harmony driven arrangement, the hallmark and reflection of all sorts of vocal traditions from church and backwoods America refracted through CSNY and the Beach Boys, and when it works best - the echoey, haunting opening of White Winter Hymnal, for instance - it's nigh on unmissable. But again, if that were all it wouldn't stay for long. What works is how the band add flourishes and developments that elevate it to a certain level of dreaminess, not to mention a connection with the decade's previous US folk bearers, from Will Oldham out to Devendra Banhart, and on some of the more stripped back songs - Tiger Mountain Peasant Song, Oliver James - a storytelling pastorialism that recalls Fairport Convention. Or you could forget comparison and let the ethereality f something like Quiet Houses wash over you as guitars cascade around a tambourine rhythm, and throughout landscape and wildlife add a sense of wide open place to proceedings. Then there's the soaring wordless choruses of He Doesn't Know Why and Heard Them Stirring, the latter of which is decorated with plucked things that are stringed but aren't acoustic guitars. Its actual nearest comparison, it emerges to mind, is Dennis Wilson's finally reissued this year Pacific Ocean Blue, another album full of harmonies and timeless arrangements that referenced landscape proudly as its setting. If you prodded at it for too long it'd fall apart - Fleet Foxes have arrived fully formed and at one with their surroundings of all sorts.

White Winter Hymnal

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