Posted on Monday, December 15th, 2008
A quirk of my music consumption habits is that I’m tied to eMusic’s sometimes-spotty label coverage. See, eMusic is basically awesome – a low, flat rate per month for 90 tracks’-worth of DRM-free mp3s.
The problem comes when something good is released, but doesn’t find its way onto eMusic. Then I have a dilemma – do I wait and see if it turns up later (which it often does, 2-3 months after release), or do I turn to an alternative option – buying the album on iTunes (frequently DRM-plagued) or Amazon (no DRM, just the stinging guilt of disloyalty to my girlfriend…), or getting the CD (no DRM, less guilt, more physical objects cluttering up my apartment…)
The upshot is often that I’ll dither for quite a while after a record comes out before shelling out cash for it, which means I’m sometimes hopelessly out of date on key releases.
So it is with Fleet Foxes, whose album I finally got around to buying in November, some 5 months after its actual release. I don’t feel completely left out on this one – I saw them play a fantastic show at SXSW in March, so I knew what some of the fuss was about. But still, 5 months is a long time to wait to properly listen to what is, in my opinion, the best album of the year.
Let’s get the cringe-worthy crap out of the way first. Beach Boys, Crosby Stills and Nash, Simon and Garfunkel, blah blah blah.
What’s fantastic about the Fleet Foxes’ first album (called, originally, “Fleet Foxes”) is that, yes, it reminds you of lots of acts. But really, it isn’t like any of them. Actually achieving this these days is a surprisingly difficult feat to pull off – just ask Coldplay (“here’s our Radiohead song; here’s our U2 song; here’s our Eno song…”).
The Beach Boys references seem to come from the solidly surf-style guitar underpinning many of the more energetic songs, whilst the more ‘folksy’ comparisons are obviously picked up from the combination of soft acoustic guitar and shameless harmonising.
You can keep comparing – at their crescendo (on, say, “Heard Them Stirring”) the choir-like harmonisations sound more like the most triumphal moments of Sufjan Stevens’ “Illinoise”. Or maybe the Polyphonic Spree, minus-tiresome-cult-overtones. The record is also awash with reminiscences (deep bass, those surf guitars) of the Crystal Skulls, which is unsurprising given Christian Wargo’s appearance.
(Side Note: searching for the Crystal Skulls on Youtube is painful, thanks to a glut of Indiana-Jones-related nonsense, still, here’s a live performance:
I could bang on and on and on about the Fleet Foxes record – it’s a rare thing in being an album which never really lets up, deeply satisfying little hooks and turns falling from it throughout its length. Rare is the day, these days, when I actually listen to an album without skipping at least 1 track.
And, in keeping with the season, it offers up an unmistakably wintery/Christmassy song which is (oh rare and precious thing) actually not completely annoying: