Fleet Foxes

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Photo Credit: Shawn Brackbill

Well, I’ve been waiting a while for this and I’m sure I’m not the only one. As I get set to head to SXSW next week, I’m reminded of the time I sprinted down 6th in Austin to catch a midday set by them at Emo’s Annex. Place was half-empty and I sat on the steps and was absolutely blown away. I wound up face to face with Robin Pecknold and was stammering like a high school kid with a crush. As clear it was yesterday, here’s how our awkward conversation played out.

Me: Uhhhh, you guys are going to be huge. That was awesome.

Robin: Thanks man. You really think so.

Me: Totally.

Awkward silence ensues.

Me: Thanks again man. See you around.

Robin: Thanks for coming.

Anyway, Crack Up will be out om June 16th via the fine folks at Nonesuch. To celebrate they’ve released a 9 minute mini-epic titled Third of May / Ōdaigahara. Here’s a little more info on the forthcoming album.

All eleven of the songs on Crack-Up were written by Robin Pecknold. The album was co-produced by Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset, his longtime bandmate, collaborator, and childhood friend. Crack-Up was recorded at various locations across the United States between July 2016 and January 2017: at Electric Lady Studios, Sear Sound, The Void, Rare Book Room, Avast, and The Unknown. Phil Ek mixed the album, at Sear Sound, and it was mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound. Fleet Foxes is Robin Pecknold (vocals, multi-instrumentalist), Skyler Skjelset (multi-instrumentalist, vocals), Casey Wescott (multi-instrumentalist, vocals), Christian Wargo (multi-instrumentalist, vocals), and Morgan Henderson (multi-instrumentalist).

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You can find Fleet Foxes on instagram

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I’ve been reading The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald for graduate school this week. Sebald’s writing is descriptive and purposeful, his words gently reconstructing a world that exists only in memory. Like all great artists, Sebald trusts his audience, understanding that the reader has the power to interpret, the ability to perceive what lies behind the words on the page. Sebald, who died in a tragic car crash at the height of his prowess in 2001, also has the unique capacity to convey intimacy, as is illustrated in the following quote, “Doubtless we should have driven on without accomplishing a thing, if we had not summoned up the nerve, exchanging one of those swift glances, to at least take a look at the garden.” One of those swift glances. We’ve all experienced that type of intimacy. The kind where words are unnecessary, and a fleeting glance is all that is needed.

The Fleet Foxes, like Sebald, have that wonderful ability to convey intimacy through their art. This was abundantly clear this past Wednesday night as the boys from Seattle lit up the sold-out 3,000 seat United Palace Theater with one and a half hours of beautiful music. Touring hot on the heels of the release of their brilliant sophomore album, Helplessness Blues, Robin Pecknold and gang gave it to us raw, and the respectfully silent audience (apart from the heckling about lowering the bass, which they seemingly took seriously as the sound noticeably improved) ate up every moment.

For me, the evening was about two things; memory and intimacy. Robin Pecknold’s songs speak to both. The following lyrics in Drops in the River reveal both themes,

You hesitate so my memory fades. I’ll hold to the first one,
I wouldn’t turn to another you say, on the long night we’ve made,
Let it go.

The opening lines of Montezuma also grapple with memory and intimacy,

So now I am older,
Than my mother and father,
When they had their daughter,
Now what does that say about me.
Oh how could I dream of,
Such a selfless and true love,
Could I wash my hands of,
Just lookin out for me?

I caught the Fleet Foxes’ July, 2008 show at the Bowery Ballroom, one month before I married my best friend and the love of my life. I can only speculate through listening to his word what Robin Pecknold was going through then and now, but by providing us with a glimpse he draws us closer and reminds us of the centrality of memory and intimacy to the human experience. They are, indeed, all that we have and share.

One final note about the Fleet Foxes’ performance. During the second half of the set, I believe it was right after Ragged Wood (correct me if I’m wrong), the audience erupted in a spontaneous standing ovation that lasted for over a minute. It was a special moment that will stay in my memory for years to come.

Setlist:

The Cascades
Grown Ocean
Drops In The River
Battery Kinzie
Bedouin Dress
Sim Sala Bim
Mykonos
Your Protector
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
White Winter Hymnal
Ragged Wood
Lorelai
Montezuma
He Doesn’t Know Why
The Shrine / An Argument
Blue Spotted Tail
Blue Ridge Mountains

Encore:
Oliver James
Helplessness Blues

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Cave Singers. Without going into much detail, they rock my world and I loved every moment of their opening set.

Video: Fleet Foxes – Montezuma/ He Doesn’t Know

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Over my years at SxSW, there have been exactly two bands that I’ve broken into a sprint to see. One of these bands was the Fleet Foxes in ’08 (the other was Local Natives at the San Jose in ’09).  As I entered Emo’s, panting and cramping, I grabbed a beer and water before sitting down in a near empty bar. I proceeded to see the greatness that is Fleet Foxes.

At the end of the set, I approached the stage to talk to Robyn Pecknold. Okay, I approached the stage to beg him to come in for a HearYa Live Session, which he was down with it at the time.  As we concluded our conversation, I told him “You guys are going to huge. Get ready for a crazy ride.” He softly chuckled and said “You think so?”

Releasing a sophomore album after an amazing debut is tricky. Are they going to change their musical direction? Alter their sound?  Experiment to a point where their identity is lost? Fleet Foxes posed no such worry for me.  They are a band comfortable in their skin with an ability to enjoy their rising popularity with good humor and grace.

The album’s title track is one of the best songs of the year. It’s broken into two parts and Robyn Pecknold’s vocals envelope you with warmth and comfort. They exit the bridge at 2:50 and Pecknold’s voice soars above a shimmering electric guitar, sending chills down my spine.

If I had an orchard, I’d work til I’m raw
If I had an orchard, I’d work til I’m sore
You would wait tables and soon run the store
Gold hair in the sunlight, my light in the dawn
If I had an orchard, I’d work til I’m sore
If I had an orchard, I’d work til I’m sore
Someday, I’ll be like the man on the screen

Upon hearing the second single, “Grown Ocean,” I was convinced I should be ready for greatness. And greatness is what I got. Pecknold lists “Into The Mystic” as a major influence for Helplessness Blues. While Helplessness Blues isn’t quite ready to be included in that same category, you can’t help but feel that they aren’t far off. The reflective opening lines on the first track, “Montezuma,” invite you into an album full lush harmonies, orchestration, and production. It’s amazing.

On the SubPop site, Pecknold talks of how the band got to to point of Helplessness Blues. I liked the way he wrapped it up.

It’s called Helplessness Blues for a number of reasons. One, it’s kind of a funny title. Secondly, one of the prevailing themes of the album is the struggle between who you are and who you want to be or who you want to end up, and how sometimes you are the only thing getting in the way of that. That idea shows up in a number of the songs.

I’m sure you didn’t need to read this review to convince you to buy the album or check out the Fleet Foxes. I was just so swept up in this album that I felt I needed to write something. Lucky for me, I’ve got me a blog. Now I just got to work on getting me an apple orchard.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Fleet Foxes – Grown Ocean

Video: Fleet Foxes – Grown Ocean

 

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Fleet Foxes will release Helplessness Blues on May 3rd and just offered up a video for “Grown Ocean.” Here’s lead singer Robin Pecknold’s description of the album:

I think this music draws influence and inspiration from popular music and folk rock of the mid 60s to the early 70s, folks like Peter Paul & Mary, John Jacob Niles, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Neil Young, CSN, Judee Sill, Ennio Morricone, West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, The Zombies, SMiLE-era Brian Wilson, Roy Harper, Van Morrison, John Fahey, Robbie Basho, The Trees Community, Duncan Browne, the Electric Prunes, Trees, Pete Seeger, and Sagittarius, among many others. I’d say it’s a synthesis of folk rock, traditional folk, & psychedelic pop, with an emphasis on group vocal harmonies. Astral Weeks was a big inspiration on this album, if not always in sound then in approach. The raw emotion in Van Morrison’s vocals and the trance-like nature of the arrangements were very inspiring for this album!

Musically it leans on country music a little bit more, in the slide guitar of songs like “Grown Ocean” and “Bedouin Dress” or “Helplessness Blues.” We used a number of new instruments including the 12-string guitar, the hammered dulcimer, zither, upright bass, wood flute, tympani, Moog synthesizer, the tamboura, the fiddle, the marxophone, clarinet, the music box, pedal steel guitar, lap steel guitar, Tibetan singing bowls, vibraphone, along with more traditional band instrumentation.

Video: Fleet Foxes – Grown Ocean

Fleet Foxes – Grown Ocean from Fleet Foxes on Vimeo.

 

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Fleet Foxes are finally ready to follow up their amazing self-titled debut with Helplessness Blues, due out on May 3rd.  You can sample and download the title track below. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues by subpop Tweet

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