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White Winter Hymnal
About the artist:
Borrowing from ageless folk and classic rock (and nicking some of the best bits from prog and soft rock along the way), on their self-titled debut album Fleet Foxes don’t just master the art of taking familiar influences and making them sound fresh again, they give a striking sense of who they are and what their world is like. Their song titles reference the Blue Ridge Mountains — never mind that they’re actually from Seattle — but it’s the ease and skill with which they mix and match British and American folk and rock from the far and not too distant past that makes the band’s music so refreshing. While this mix could be contrived or indulgent, Fleet Foxes use restraint, structuring their flourishes into three- and four-minute pop songs full of chiming melodies and harmonies that sound like they’ve been summoned from centuries of traditional songs and are full of vivid, universal imagery: mountains, birds, family, death. Despite drawing from so many sources, there’s a striking purity to Fleet Foxes’ sound. Robin Pecknold’s voice is warm and sweet, with just enough grit to make phrases like “premonition of my death” sound genuine, and the band’s harmonies sound natural, and stunning, whether they’re on their own or supported by acoustic guitars or the full, plugged-in band. “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and “Meadowlarks” show just how much the Foxes do with the simplest elements of their music, but Fleet Foxes’ best songs marry that purity with twists that open their sound much wider. As good as the Sun Giant EP was, Fleet Foxes saved many of their best songs for this album. “White Winter Hymnal” is remarkably beautiful, building from a vocal round into glorious jangle pop with big, booming drums that lend a sense of adventure as the spine-tingling melody lightens some of the lyrics’ darkness (“Michael you would fall and turn the white snow red as strawberries in summertime”). The suite-like “Ragged Wood” moves from a galloping beat to sparkling acoustic picking, then takes a trippy detour before returning to a more thoughtful version of its main theme. “Quiet Houses” and “He Doesn’t Know Why”‘s driving pianos show off the band’s flair for drama. Dazzling songs like these are surrounded by a few songs that find the band leaning a little more heavily on its influences. “Your Protector” nods to Zeppelin’s misty, mournful side, and “Blue Ridge Mountains” is the kind of earthy yet sophisticated song CSNY would have been proud to call their own. But, even when the songs aren’t as brilliant as Fleet Foxes’ highlights, the band still sounds alluring, as on the lush interlude “Heard Them Stirring.” Throughout the album, the band sounds wise beyond its years, so it’s not really that surprising that Fleet Foxes is such a satisfying, self-assured debut.
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