At first, I was infatuated, bowled-over, stupefied with glee as though deep-down I'd been waiting for a band just like this -- chamber music, hymns and west-coast blissed-out prettiness and bits and pieces of American folk music and artrock, these are all things I like quite a bit from time to time and it's all there.

So why am I so indifferent to this band now?

And why -- I mean, REALLY? WHY? -- is their self-titled record so many people's favorite album of the year?

I don't have answers for the second question, and only a scattershot guessing mess of reasons for the first one.

Maybe I got bored of the record; I listened to it a lot, and while everything is very neatly arranged, it's not deep, not the kind of record where you notice something new every time. It's not filled with subtleties. It just is what it is. It's also terribly monotonous; when I first discovered them early in the year, I noticed on their Myspace that they'd made it a point to describe themselves as "not a rock band" and while at first I thought that slightly misleading, it turns out to be true in an unfortunate way: they are hardly exciting. (Anyone else notice that the bassist always and I mean always looks bored?) They are content to make pretty music with pretty harmonies, and too rarely do they push the decibel meter. It makes all the very-hushed parts in their songs feel cheaper for the lack of dynamic. (Quiet is the new loud? Again?)

Most of all, I get tired of wading through songs with uninspired segments. Off the top of my head, there's moments in "Ragged Wood", "Quiet Houses" and "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" that actually annoy me, passages that seem to try too hard to be melodic or weird, instead of just sounding good, instead of really waiting for inspiration -- and these are three of my favorite songs on the record, in spite of their flaws, which only makes it more maddening. The album is absolutely thick with ideas, most of its songs have more ideas than some whole albums, and most of the melodicism is highly sophisticated. Yet it gets too melodic, as if they don't know anything else, as if they think music can only be carefully composed, as if chance doesn't belong.

I think it was Clay who said that the album almost sounds like an assignment. I wish that didn't sound right, but it does.

With all of that said, the fact of the matter is that Robin Pecknold is oftentimes very inspired -- take "Blue Ridge Mountains", "White Winter Hymnal", "Oliver James", all of which are vivid and warm, melodic and ageless. And it's a mightily impressive debut record, despite its flaws (again). I think the main reason I've fallen out of touch with Fleet Foxes partly has to do with what I thought they were when I first heard them. Nowadays, I hear The Beach Boys, sun-baked and immaculate, and brilliant. Before, I heard The Band in all their early glory, in their strange still-unmatched way of singing through and above and past one another. Back then -- think Music From Big Pink -- The Band was both crazy-loose and crazy-tight. While I like The Beach Boys, I hardly ever listen to them -- mostly I admire and respect what they could do, but really enjoying it, or more importantly loving it? Not-so-much. The Band is a different story. (Go on YouTube, check out Fleet Foxes' video for "He Doesn't Know Why". See the resemblance?)

I've got a prediction. Whether or not Fleet Foxes trims the fat and comes up with something truly great next time around, a lot of folks will at some point in the next few years re-scan their best-of-2008 lists and wonder, When was the last time I listened to this album?


Clay B. said...

Very True. The real challenge of choosing your favorite albums of the year, is that they can easily die out during the year. timeless albums are timeless for a reason. pitchfork called the fleet foxes lp their number one favorite album of the year WHAT? yeah for real.
Its beautiful but its monotone. its a genius's assignment for an advanced composition class. objective: make an album these genres that you studied.
the difficulty is discerning whether the pretty has any soul within it... or whether its just reminiscing on a final fantasy level, the game which the lead singer used to "be totally a nerd about" (paraphrased).

Clay B. said...

Though they can be and still sometimes are great!

Will said...

you know after i read this post i have to admit you have a point.

my room mate always seems to be listening to the LP when i get home, or put it on when he's around, and i've grown kind of... numb to listening to them. i had them on the background a lot when i was doing homework, just for something to pass the time.

i no longer hear those intricacies i did when i first heard "oliver james" or "blue ridge mountain". after a while this album gets a little bland and ...familiar, but not in the place-making, nostalgic way that a lot of our favorite songs are. i think these are songs we just know and like, but not timelessly.