Just a couple of months after the release of their EP, “Sun Giant”, Fleet Foxes released their first full length album, the self-titled “Fleet Foxes”. The musicianship, lyricism, and songwriting on this album would bring Fleet Foxes to the status of indie folk gods, but how does it hold up after almost a decade? Does it still stand out as brilliant or has its sheen dulled over time?
For me, this is an enhancement of everything Fleet Foxes did right with “Sun Giant”, and a recovery for everything they did wrong. The songs on the album are fully fleshed out, most of them having multiple noticeable changes in tone or structure within them. Even though I have listened through the album so many times, I still forget where some songs end up compared to how they begin.
The primary instrumentation is still acoustic and clean electric guitar, but there are an abundance of others that join in like mandolin, percussion, woodwind, bass, piano, and of course the voice of Robin Pecknold, though he is accompanied by the rest of the band fairly often. The dynamics between the different instruments, the adding and taking away of certain ones here and there, keep things in constant flux. The album is always moving between valleys and peaks and offering something interesting for my ears.
It’s kind of funny how the album starts off with “Sun It Rises”, where the first verses are sung in such a backwoodsy, country drawl that you might expect that you’re about to listen to a very rough and southern folk album. The album you do get is polished, at times intricate, and most certainly beautiful. “White Winter Hymnal” is the second track on the album and probably the most recognizable due to its repeating and hypnotic verse “I was following the, I was following the” and its use in popular media. On this song, like so many others on the album, Fleet Foxes effectively builds up the sound by starting off with just one vocalist, then adding another, then a tambourine, until by the end the whole band is playing and singing. “Ragged Wood” is an excellent song where we get a lot of Fleet Foxes’ trademark ‘Whoas’ and ‘Ohs’ before bustling into a happy and rhythmic tune. After a few verses of that, things quickly calm down and the song begins yearning for something or someone. The mood of the album dips further down with “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song”, which is a beautifully morose song, somewhat betrayed by the strength of Robin’s voice picking up halfway through where I would have preferred it to stay quiet.
Two songs on the album stand out to me as my favorites. The first in the track listing is “He Doesn’t Know Why”, which has fantastic lyrics and an amazing rhythm to it. After the first few verses when the percussion kicks in, the song reaches such folk grandeur that it’s infectious. I love the refrain in the song as well, with Robin’s voice pulling so much weight with the conviction coming off of his lips. My other favorite song is “Your Protector”. It starts off slowly, with just some flute playing and Robin’s voice taking us through the short introduction. As soon as the chorus hits though, Fleet Foxes as a band just bursts out, giving an amazing performance that carries through the rest of the song.
Oddly enough, “He Doesn’t Know Why” and “Your Protector” are such great songs that they actually diminish the rest of the album in comparison. There is a noticeable difference in quality between these tracks and the rest of the album, which is more a compliment to the songs than a slight against the album. I do have one big issue with the album, however, and that would be “Oliver James”, the very last song. I kind of hate this freaking song, nothing interesting happens in it and Robin’s voice ends up annoying me by the end of it. I cannot find any redemption in it and wish the album had ended with “Blue Ridge Mountain” instead.
Fleet Foxes delivered an excellent indie folk album with their first full length release. Despite what few issues I have, this is still one of my favorite folk albums, and I know for many people this is Fleet Foxes’ best.