I don’t like to be hasty in reviewing albums. Time is very important in any listening process. Upon first listen, something may sound interesting or fun, but after three or four plays, a song may lose its flavor. It’s an unfortunate reality – far too many records simply don’t hold up over extended periods of listening.
Yet, there are some that just don’t get old. A few albums each year seem to transcend their release date, sounding altogether innovative and classical. So far, only Third by Portishead and Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut have managed this in 2008. Now it’s time to add to that list, and to reconsider it slightly; Fleet Foxes have just released the best album of the year.
Now, it’s quite a feat to set the pace for any given year, but Fleet Foxes does more than just create a standard of comparison. The record calls forth emotion, works in the art of beauty, recalls the past, and so perfectly finds itself in the here and now. This claim, while seemingly vague, is entirely apt for the album; but it all starts with the singing.
From the very beginning, Fleet Foxes shows amazing harmonizing vocal work. “Sun It Rises” begins with a collection of singers, quietly intoning the first lyrics. Then, after some fine guitar work, absolutely gorgeous vocals emerge from the sound. As the band sings perfect melodies, the listener can’t help but be drawn in. A brief pause in the instrumentals at the 2:30 mark shows the great strength in singing – Fleet Foxes could conceivably carry most of this a cappella.
This theme of fantastic vocal work carries throughout the entire album. The stunning “Ragged Wood” is carried by the powerful lead singing, as a rolling rhythm propels the song forward. A sense of sheer joy isn’t hard to feel – your ears will thank you for this song.
But vocal power alone rarely carries an album. Thankfully, Fleet Foxes are more than competent instrumentalists; indeed, their fantastic brand of folk makes the entire experience special. Almost like a louder version of Simon and Garfunkel or a modern take on Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Fleet Foxes have excellent tonality and simply beautiful guitar lines. Often in the spotlight, the guitar work is really something to behold. Unlike the virtuoso work of harder artists, the strumming by Fleet Foxes seems a perfect match to the light mood. A solid percussion and bass also add to the fantastic atmosphere. By driving the songs forward, the rhythm stops tracks from ever becomes monotonous. This synchronicity of instrumental components is refreshing in a world full of heavy, grunge-based guitars and limited rhythmic consideration.
The fantastic musical and vocal output put Fleet Foxes ahead of everything else this year. Yet, the positive discussion of the album does not end in sonic quality – lyrical content further reflects the excellence of this record. Nature imagery floods the album, as ideas of the frontier, mountain air, and tall grasses meander through the ears. But this sort of setting works to further impress in conjunction with the entire tone. Often, these songs reflect on some sort of personal sorrow. “He Doesn’t Know Why” reaches its climax as the singer cries out, “There’s nothing I can do/There’s nothing I can say.” Further personal tales are recounted on the touching “Your Protector,” where the singer asks, “Would you wait for me?” The almost-fear is tangible and absolutely stunning, only providing further reason to follow the tales of Fleet Foxes.
Quite simply, Fleet Foxes have done everything right in creating this album. Individual sorrows are brilliantly told through absolutely stunning vocals and splendid instrumentation. There are no weak songs, and every moment manages to captivate. I can only hope that another album attempts to become album of the year like this, because an insanely high bar has now been set.