Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Beach Boys of Winter: The Fleet Foxes

Fleet FoxesThe move to Austin in 2008 was a particularly traumatic one.  On the weekdays I was commuting from Carrollton to Denton for work and school and to Austin on the weekends to visit my soon-to-be wife.  At the same time, I was selling a house during a panicked recession, writing my thesis, and generally coming to terms with myself.  I despise the feeling of chaos that moving brings, but in this particular case, I think that being unseated in such a way gave me the opportunity to be more contemplative and reflective than usual. 
Both in the car and in the nearly empty house, The Fleet Foxes was playing non-stop during this introspective end of the "Carrollton Period."  There was a buzz surrounding this band online when their debut album was released, but it was this video that sold me.

Pet SoundsWhite Winter Hymnal is immediately haunting and engaging, characteristics that spill over into the entirety of Fleet Foxes.  These qualities are very, very difficult to describe, and it was a struggle to write a review on Amazon that really captured how I was experiencing the album's nearly instantaneous nostalgia.  Another reviewer, however, simply described the Fleet Foxes as “The Beach Boys of Winter,” which has stuck for me ever since (can't take credit for it, though).

Although the Beach Boys metaphor is generally appropriate in regards to the obvious vocal prowess of the Fleet Foxes, I also interpret it as a specific reference to Pet Sounds.  There is a complex history and many assumptions surrounding this album, but in short, it was Brian Wilson at his creative and expressive peak.  It is a singularly unique entry in the Beach Boys canon, and even if you normally don’t like the band, it is difficult not to at least appreciate its childlike exuberance.

Helplessness BluesGranted, the similarity between the two albums is not measureable.  Undoubtedly there is a lot about the Fleet Foxes that says “campfire” rather than “surf’s up.”  There is something passionate and intimate that both albums capture, however, that is, to me, perhaps inexplicable but intuitively palpable.   
Earlier this month, the Fleet Foxes’ second album, Helplessness Blues, was released, and is becoming the soundtrack to a current, but far less stressful, move.  This recent effort is perhaps a bit more experimental and opaque than their debut.  It does not, however, eschew the evocative ambience that I associate with the band.

For the sake of accessibility, I might suggest their debut as an introduction.  If you are already a fan, however, I think that Helplessness Blues will similarly capture your interest, and it will probably stand on its own quite well as a starting point.

1 comment:

  1. I was also taken by White Winter Hymnal last winter and unaware of the comparison you mentioned I tagged them for myself as The Wood Boys, obviously in analogy to the Beach Boys' music beyond Surfin USA. I'm glad I 've discovered them. Excellent review, beautifully phrased, thanks.