Fleet Foxes

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Fleet Foxes (2008) , 7/10
Helplessness Blues (2011), 6/10
Father John Misty: Fear Fun (2012), 6/10
Poor Moon: Poor Moon (2012), 4/10
Crack-Up (2017), 6/10
Father John Misty: I Love You Honeybear (2015), 5/10
Father John Misty: A Pure Comedy (2017), 6.5/10
Father John Misty: God's Favorite Customer (2018), 5/10
Shore (2020), 6/10

Seattle's Fleet Foxes, fronted by singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold and co-formed with guitarist Skyler Skjelset, played folk-rock for the post-emo era. The five-song EP Sun Giant (2008) introduced the band's anomalous sound with the a-cappella hymn Sun Giant, the alternatingly catatonic and energetic Drops in the River, the hypnotic and oscillating English House, the straightforward Mykonos (the closer thing to power-pop on the album) and the Appalachian lament of Innocent Sun for voice and guitar, each with oddly deformed rhythms (or no rhythm at all) and unpredictable dynamics within their apparently simple melodic constructs. There was enough magic to bring to mind acid-rock combo It's A Beautiful Day, Merseybeat harmonizers the Hollies and folk revivalists the Incredible String Band.

They fulfilled the promises of the EP on Fleet Foxes (Subpop, 2008), with the quintet (including guitarist Christian Wargo, keyboardist Casey Wescott and drummer Joshua Tillman) now a tight unit. The album's main asset is the multi-part harmonies that turn several songs into disorienting experiences, beyond what the Beach Boys and Crosby Stills & Nash were capable of: the quasi-religious fervor of Sun it Rises, matched by the shimmering tones of the guitar; the quasi-gothic murmur of Heard Them Stirring, contrasted by delicate strumming and booming ambience; etc. When an infectious rhythm and a candid melody are wed to the baroque vocal harmonies, the result is crystalline creations such as White Winter Hymnal (one of their signature songs) and He Doesn't Know Why. The subtle arrangements add their own brand of sonic experience to songs such as Your Protector (flute and organ).
Remnants of traditional music can be sighted in songs such as Ragged Wood, that blend an Appalachian-inspired quasi-yodeling lead voice with trotting drums, or Quiet Houses, that hints at church music and bluegrass music from a higher dimension, or Blue Ridge Mountains. These songs virtually redefine the sagging genre of "alt-country". Pecknold completes the magic with his own vocal prowess, as displayed in Tiger Mountain Peasant Song (a neoclassical madrigal for voice and guitar) and Oliver James. Their melodic elegance has few rivals.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Antonio Buono)

I Fleet Foxes, capeggiati dal cantautore Robin Pecknold, suonano un folk-rock per l’era post-emo. Le cinque canzoni dell’Ep Sun Giant (2008) introducono l’anomalo sound della band con un inno a cappella come Sun Giant, l’alternativamente catatonica e vigorosa Drops in the River, l’ipnotica e oscillante English House, la lineare Mykonos (la cosa più vicina al power-pop dell’album) e il lamento appalachiano di Innocent Sun per voce e chitarra, ciascuna con ritmi stravagantemente deformati (o senza alcun ritmo) e dinamiche imprevedibili dentro strutture melodiche apparentemente semplici.

C’è abbastanza magia per richiamare alla mente combi acid-rock come gli It's A Beautiful Day, armonizzatori del Marseybeat come gli Hollies e i revivalisti del folk come la Incredible String Band.

I Fleet Foxes mantengono le promesse dell’Ep sul primo album Fleet Foxes (Subpop, 2008). Il suo pregio principale sono le armonie multi-parti che trasformano diverse canzoni in esperienze disorientanti, oltre quello che Beach Boys e Crosby Stills & Nash erano capaci di fare: l’ardore quasi religioso di Sun it Rises, armonizzato con i toni scintillanti delle chitarra; il mormorio quasi gotico di Heard Them Stirring, contrastato da uno strimpellio delicato e un’ambientazione risonante, etc. Quando un ritmo contagioso e una candida melodia vengono combinati a barocche armonie vocali, il risultato sono cristalline creazioni come White Winter Hymnal e Doesn't Know Why. Gli arrangiamenti penetranti appongono da soli il marchio di esperienza sonora a canzoni come Your Protector (flauto e organo).

Rimasugli di musica tradizionale possono essere avvistati invece in episodi come Ragged Wood, che fondono la voce guida quasi yodel di ispirazione appalachiana a una batteria trottante, o Quiet Houses che allude alla musica da chiesa e bluegrass da una più alta dimensione, o ancora Blue Ridge Mountains.

I brani ridefiniscono virtualmente un genere in esaurimento come l’"alt-country". Pecknold completa la magia con la sua maestria vocale, come dimostra in Tiger Mountain Peasant Song (un madrigale neoclassico per voce e chitarra) e Oliver James. La loro eleganza melodica ha pochi rivali.

Fleet Foxes' super-prolific drummer Joshua Tillman also released the solo albums I Will Return (Keep Recordings, 2005), Long May You Run (Keep Recordings, 2006), Documented (2006), Minor Works (Fargo, 2006), Cancer & Delirium (Yer Bird, 2007), Vacilando Territory Blues (Western Vinyl, 2009), Year in the Kingdom (2009). At his best, he drew from the desperate verve of Neil Young and early Van Morrison to paint a series of disturbing self-portraits at the pace of scorching albeit spartan blues-rock, folk-rock and soul-rock.

The Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues (SubPop, 2011) was much more traditional than the first one, almost a tribute to old-fashioned folk-rock of the 1960s with quaint acoustic instruments and simple domestic melodies. The quasi-yodeling croon and doo-wop harmonies of Montezuma feel like the Everly Brothers dropped into a cocktail lounge. The cosmopolitan raga-psychedelic dance Bedouin Dress feels like a suddenly energized Simon & Garfunkel, and the spartan Blue Spotted Tail exudes the innocence of early Donovan. In theory the musical mood ranges from the lively and stomping Battery Kinzie (perhaps the most immediate song of the lot) to the ecstatic/impressionistic The Plains/Bitter Dancer, with a balanced peak in the dreamy country elegy Lorelei. In practice, too many of the songs are faceless, and even the better ones are hard to tell from each other: this is just lulling background muzak for summer picnics. The Cascades apes new-age music's take on Celtic music (and makes new-age music sound like avantgarde). The booming Grown Ocean apes orchestral pop without the orchestra. Others are plain aimless and confusing, like Helplessness Blues that neurotically changes personality a few times, never quite finding an interesting one, or like the eight-minute The Shrine/an Argument, that tries to rescue its monotonous cry at first with martial pomp, then with a church-like invocation, and finally with free-jazz ostentation.

Meanwhile, Joshua Tillman, relocated to Los Angeles, continued his solo career under a new moniker and a new persona, the drunk and horny Father John Misty, with Fear Fun (2012), a collection of vibrant songs, produced by Jonathan Wilson, that rediscover the realist art of Randy Newman and Warren Zevon, including the eccentric and clever parables of Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings (the standout) and Funtimes in Babylon. Musically, Tillman doesn't strive to innovate: he's content with the barrelhouse blues-rock I'm Writing a Novel and the country singalong Everyman Needs a Companion.

Two members of the Fleet Foxes (Christian Wargo and Casey Wescott) joined brothers Ian and Peter Murray to form Poor Moon that debuted with the EP Illusion (Sub Pop, 2012), sounding a lot like the Fleet Foxes. The full-length Poor Moon (Sub Pop, 2012) contains mostly slow-motion filler, over which the Sixties revival pop of Waiting For easily towers, but it is not exactly revolutionary (in fact thousands of pub bands have songs like this in their repertory).

Robin Pecknold resurrected the Fleet Foxes for Crack-Up (Nonesuch, 2017), a much more complex work than anything they had done before. Missing are the focused heartfelt soulful melodies, replaced by convoluted multi-layered architectures. The crux of the album are the two multi-part compositions. I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar is only six-minute long, but those six minutes pack an incredible amount of changes, beginning like a stoned David Crosby-ian invocation before the guitar unleashes a torrential minimalist pattern that spawns vocal harmonies a` la Hollies that fizzles out into a feeble lament and so on. The process is akin to the prog-pop of early Genesis. The nine-minute mini-opera Third of May/ Odaigahara sounds like a Broadway musical paying serial tribute to Neil Young, John Denver and so on, and then inviting on stage Leo Kottke for a solo-guitar improvisation. There is much confusion, a bit of bombast, and little cohesion in these two centerpieces. The dense arrangements hijack even the simplest melodic ideas, but the results tend to be more engaging. Fool's Errand sounds like the Mamas & the Papas arranged by VanDyke Parks before Frank Sinatra steals the microphone for an operatic moonlight croon. Cassius is wrapped up in the emphatic semi-orchestral arrangements of Brit-pop of the 1990s (the "Madchester" sound in particular). Mearcstapa evokes the baroque folk-jazz of Van Morrison's Moondance. Naiads Cassadies borrows the Indian-tinged funereal suspense of the Doors's The End before turning into a laid-back, hummed, country-rock shuffle. Kept Woman sounds like a Renaissance hymn sung by Simon & Garfunkel while the guitar engages in austere minimalist repetition. Even the most timid song, the martial Warren Zevon-ian nightmare of If You Need to, Keep Time on me, is both propelled and hampered by its intricate piano work. The album ends with the mournful march, fanfare and cosmic invocation of Crack-Up, another song that changes skin multiple times.

Meanwhile, Father John Misty continued his witty verbose mission on the autobiographical concept I Love You Honeybear (Subpop, 2015), again produced by Jonathan Wilson, offers more variety but also excessive string arrangements. Holy Shit is emblematic: for a few minutes is just a passionate song, but then the strings flood its melody and end up burying it. At times the albums sounds like the worst of the California sound of the 1970s: the commercial soul-infected singer-songwriters like Carly Simon and James Taylor (When You’re Smiling and Astride Me, The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment), the laid-back country-rock bands a` la Eagles (Strange Encounter), and the last vestiges of Frank Sinatra's generation. The oddest hybrid is the tex-mex Tamla-soul of Chateau Lobby #4, followed by the frenzied circus stomp of The Ideal Husband. The comic Bored in the USA is the song du jour in the mode of Randy Newman.

A Pure Comedy (Subpop, 2017), on the other hand, a far more serious album from Father John Misty, has several winners starting with the faux falsetto soul of Ballad of the Dying Man and the sarcastic Warren Zevon-ian sermon and crescendo Pure Comedy. Here the piano has become the dialoguing voice and the orchestra has taken the back seat. His sociopolitical commentary is uncontrollable and rolls out the austere Jackson Browne-ian parable When The God Of Love Returns, There’ll Be Hell To Pay, the environmental anthem Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution, and the effervescent fanfare with Elton John-ian echoes Total Entertainment Forever. This time, instead of looking deferentially to the worst of the 1970s, he's trying to match the best, like in the ten-minute So I'm Growing Old on Magic Mountain that evokes the spirit of early Neil Young and Joni Mitchell and drowns it in a funereal coda. The 13-minute Leaving LA (arranged by minimalist composer Gavin Bryars) is a mournful epic in the tradition of Bob Dylan's Desolation Row, Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant, Don McLean's American Pie and Billy Joel's Piano Man. The stripped-down arrangements greatly benefit his music that avoids the awkward missteps of Honeybear while still indulging in the occasional eerie soundscape (Birdie).

God's Favorite Customer (Subpop, 2018), another autobiographical concept from Father John Misty, abandons the philosophical tones of the previous one and, at the same time, adopts a Beatles-esque sound. The orchestral pop Hangout at the Gallows is typical of Tillman's new course, an elegant combination of Pink Floyd's Learning To Fly , the Beatles' Hey Jude and the usual Elton John. Date Night sounds like Lady Madonna with electronic distortions. Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All is John Lennon at his most moronic. Luckily, the catchiest of the batch, and a quite humorous one, Mr Tillman, escapes that stereotype and unwinds a great Hollies-ian carillon.

The Fleet Foxes returned after three years with another set of charming but conservative ditties, Shore (Anti, 2020). Robin Pecknold pens sweet melodic fantasias like Sunblind and Maestranza, and croons the stately pop-soul ballad Can I Believe You and the ponderous A Long Way Past the Past, These are tunes that harken back to the golden age of the Brill Building. Best is probably the breezy Merseybeat-sounding Jara, the outlier. The second half of the album contains the most touching songs: the delicate I'm not my Season, the polyphonic hymn-like Thymia, and Going-to-the-Sun Road, with funereal and impressionistic phrases of trumpets and trombones.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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