Thursday, October 1, 2009

A community of music - Fleet Foxes

The cover of Fleet Foxes’ self-titled album is a rather lovely picture called “De Blauwe Huik” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a 16th century Dutch painting, depicting a village scene crowded with people playing out different proverbs from the folklore of the day, all working together to create a wonderful vision of a community, busy and alive. It’s an apt cover for this album, which brings together its bits and pieces of perfectly blended sound, each bit doing its own things, but merging to create its own community of music, grounded in the well-tilled earth of folk, coloured with the domesticity and honesty of country.

Fleet Foxes is a quintet of incredibly talented men, who knit their voices together with the soft warm threads of perfectly placed harmony, supported by earthy guitars and drums giving their music the warm glow of the sunrises that you only ever get on holidays in summer.

They use their voices without pretence – simply to sing, and to sing superbly, whether in communal harmony, as in “Sun it Rises”, or in overlapping counterpoint, as in the opening of “White Winter Hymnal”, or in the occasional song where one voice gets to carry the vocals on its own, as it does in “Ragged Wood” or “Blue Ridge Mountains”.

The instruments are very much woven into the tapestry, too – not just strumming away in the background – but an essential part of the picture. Keyboards, guitars, drums all putting in their bit, all, it seems deriving a strength and confidence from the rich beauty of the music they play. It all makes for an amazingly democratic recording, where every element gets to have its say and is part of creating the final product.

Much of Fleet Foxes was actually recorded in the musicians' own homes - and while the sound mix seems wonderfully spacious and rich, it certainly does have a real domestic cosiness to it, too, like sitting by the fire in winter, toasting marshmallows.

Every album has its heroes, but the unmistakeable hero here is, quite simply, the music. You admire the skill of the singing; you find your heart swelling with the grounded surety of the instrumentation; but it’s ultimately the music that you notice the most and that stays with you the longest. Not the melodies, not the harmonies, not the rhythms, but the sum of all these, and that little bit of magical extra specialness that turns sounds into something that carries you to other places, and turns bad days into good days.

Fleet Foxes is a great album to play anywhere, anytime.

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