Friday, September 5, 2008

Foxes and Feems

The keen-eyed amongst you may have noticed that there's been a distinct lack of album reviews round these parts for some time, including those on The Scene, well unfortunately dear readers, that's because they're shutting down. So until i find some new sources to inundate with my reviews, they'll have to temporarily find placement here....

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (SubPop, 2008, Alt-Country/Folk)

With only a single EP to their name, Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut certainly made quite the splash with the American music press. Garnering the kind of critical praise that hasn’t been seen since, well, The Arcade Fire comes to mind; but even in an industry that’s quick to hype ‘the next big thing,’ it’s not often that a debut album is called “a landmark in American music” with such unanimous praise (as The Guardian did).

The quintet’s sound, with its warm acoustic textures and precise vocal harmonies, is easy to like, but just because a record is easy to listen doesn’t guarantee its greatness. Only startling musicianship or innovation will do that, and Fleet Foxes aren’t bankrupt in either.

Hailing from Seattle, the quintet’s sound is as far flung from that town’s main musical export of grunge, as one can get. It’s sunny harmonies evoking classic artists such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or The Beach Boys, while the dusty Americana is reminiscent of recent revivalists such as Band of Horses. Frontman Robin Peckold’s croon recalls another national staple, that of Jim James of My Morning Jacket. Fleet Foxes don’t necessarily trump all of the above, but offer a seamless cohesion of these influences while evoking some sort of renaissance fair with its almost baroque instrumentation and old-world production.

The folky round of White Winter Hymnal and Blue Ridge Mountains makes it sound easy, while the forlorn Tiger Mountain Peasant Song highlights the enduring power of a voice and guitar to create the sound of loneliness and haunting timelessness that underpin the record. It’s the aural equivalent of dusting off a grimy stain glass window to let cracks of sunlight shine through and illuminate the colours therein.

In just forty minutes we have a musical landscape that stretches beyond the boundaries of its simple musical setting, the music can either wash over the listener in swathing brushstrokes such as on He Doesn’t Know Why, which follows with Heard Them Stirring which, like much of the album, rewards intimate listening with rich musical grain.

Whether the group survive past the hyperbole and transcend their obvious references remains to be seen, but for the time-being it’s as good a record as any to deserve the weighty mantle of American album of the year. Even if that year isn’t necessarily 2008, perhaps ‘best re-issue of an imagined lost album from 1972’ would be more fitting. Either way it’s a gratifying form of nostalgia in today’s cutting edge music industry.

4 out of 5

And it's Fleet Foxes' White Winter Hymnal that leads us to another themed playlist, forget Vivaldi, it's Al's Music Rant's own seasonal playlist:

The Seasons' Cycle


Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal

Kickstarting our is the aforementioned 'folky round' as warming as winter can be chilly, and sometimes a good old song is the best defense against the frost and snow.

Manic Street Preachers - Winterlovers

From the Manic's recent return-to-form Send Away The Tigers another sort of rebellion, this time the shouty, anthemic guitar with arena-sized guitars. 'NA NA NA!'

Dragonforce - Inside The Winterstorm

You might think i'm joking, but while the lyrics are nonsense, the ballady breakdown between the videogame guitar solos actually features pianos and great melodies. Otherwise it's Guitar Hero-baiting histrionics as usual

Sufjan Stevens - Sister Winter

Such a brilliant build-up; it starts all chilly and echoey like a man resigned to being frozen alive until a shift halfway which is like seeing the brightest neon christmas lights just over the hill - complete with carol singers


Of Montreal - Our Spring Is Sweet Not Fleeting

Ironic in this short instrumental ends up being as fleeting as it is sweet - all sixty seconds of it

Augie March - Men Who Follow Spring The Planet 'Round

You can always rely on Glenn Richards for some old-world poetry about unrequited love and accompanying music that's suitably rustic

The Bravery - Rites of Spring

Named after Stravinsky's brilliant ballet, and to be honest i'd have preffered that than some Killers lite rock, but its a whole 40 minutes long - so this slice of emo-disco will have to suffice.

Architecture In Helsinki - Spring 2008

Seeing out Spring is another short but sweet instrumental, from the childlike strains of Australia's indie darlings.


Bryan Adams - Summer of '69

Ahhh, Summer, my favourite season. In fact i have a whole four disc series of compilations called Summer Driving - and i needed a song that captured that euphoric feeling - and what better way than nostalgia and fist-pumping sing-a-long all in one?

Queens Of The Stone Age - Feel Good Hit Of The Summer

An anthem of another kind, quite the juxtaposition, no? Cue primitive chant of "Nicotine, Valium, Vaccadin, Marijuana, Ecstacy & Alcohol." Repeat till blacking out.

Death Cab For Cutie - Summer Skin

Good ol' DCFC seem to have a mood for every occasion, but do none better than yearning melancholy. Plus not many songs capture their subjects so quickly and beautifully as this does, "Squeaky swings and tall grass"

Joni Mitchell - The Hissing of Summer Lawns

This song always reminds me of heat haze, that effect you get when the heat is so intense on the road. Regardless, it's actually a song about the trappings and isolation of L.A. - trust Joni to give it some genius


Brian Eno - Dunwich Beach, Autumn 1960

A highlight of Eno's extended Ambient period. A drawn-out instrumental that seems to epitomise the term 'autumnal.'

The Vines - Autumn Shade

When The Vines weren't channeling Nirvana via The Beatles, they made some lovely psychedelic-tinged balladry and this is a great example from their never-bettered debut, Highly Evolved.

The Flaming Lips - My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion

Speaking of psychedlia... Complete with bird chirping and treated guitar and synth, this is a rumination on the seasons' passing, death and "the one bird that didn't leave you." Churlish elements that combined make for quite a touching song.

Pelican - Autumn into Summer

A sprawling ten and a half minute instrumental from the progressive rock come post-metal come post-rock four-piece. Whatever your genre-bending fancy, this is an epic piece that rises from atmospheric opening to an explosive finale

And Finally...

XTC - Season's Cycle

The song that gave this compilation it's title and the parent album Skylarking is easily the best concept album about the four seasons ever written. If this compilation didn't do it for you, it definitely will.

stay tuned for more music goodness.

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