You’ve seen it happen a million times before: a cloud of anticipatory acclaim kicks up around a new band, with breathless exclamations of their imminent takeover of the planet and emphatic insistence on their status as the greatest thing yet. Pumped up by the hyperbole, you buy the album or go to the show, and all that trumpeting is revealed as unfounded, misguided balderdash at best, and PR-driven mendacity at worst.
But not this time.
Fleet Foxes, the Seattle quintet who have been the subject of countless buzz-band designations ever since Beck lost a bidding war over them to Sub Pop, debuted on their hometown’s legendary label with the Sun Giant EP in February. They deliver on that five-song teaser’s promise and then some with their first full-length, a self-titled gem that already seems set to wind up near the top of any right-thinking person’s year-end list.
You’ll hear a lot of ignorant “beard rock” and “retro” accusations leveled at the band, but the fact is that in their own earthy, organic way, Fleet Foxes are at least as forward-looking as former fellow buzz babies like, say, Yeasayer or MGMT.
The kneejerk reaction is to label Fleet Foxes as “folk rock,” but the Crosby, Stills & Nash-tinged harmonies bear just as much Beach Boys influence, and these songs’ sun-dappled acoustic-guitar arpeggios owe as much to Love as to Buffalo Springfield. We’re clearly dealing with a batch of hardcore music geeks who’ve spent time trawling eBay with the keywords “baroque pop,” but they strip it down to a front-porch format while somehow maintaining orchestral ambitions.
There’s an undeniable Americana aspect to the band’s apple-pie voices, pastoral settings, and soft-sell dynamics, but it’s the Americana of Stephen Foster, Aaron Copeland, and Van Dyke Parks, humble-but-stately, unfurling as elegantly but naturally as a stone skipping across a stream. It’s bucolic to be sure, but without a trace of twang or honky-tonk; it sounds as though Gram Parsons only ever entered the Foxes’ universe via the Byrds. And while the songs utilize folk-based melodic devices, the construction is more artful and adventurous than anything the No Depression crowd ordinarily embraces.
Warmth, humility, ambition, honesty, eclecticism — these are the watchwords of a substantive musical force, no mere buzz band, and Fleet Foxes seem likely to progressing ever further long after the last echoes of the inevitable backlash die down.