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Songs from the Wood

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
(Sub Pop Records)
4 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Nov. 28, 2008
Fleet Foxes

Review by Tony Bonyata

On Fleet Foxes' self-titled full-length debut the Seattle based indie-rock quintet has crafted, if not, the strongest album of the year, then certainly, without a doubt, the most refreshing and unique. The group describes their music as "baroque harmonic pop jams," and this is about as close as you'll get to a perfect summation of this gorgeous and majestic effort.

The album opens with the gospel-kissed folk-pop of "Sun It Rises," which, with aching vocal harmonies and handsome banjo picking, sounds as if it could've been a used as the soundtrack from a deleted scene from the film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" The baroque-folk-pop vibe continues through the sunny "White Winter Hymnal," "Ragged Wood" and the beautiful and more introspective roots-inspired numbers "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" and "Oliver James."

Not only are the heavenly vocals and communal harmonies nothing short of angelic - lending a grand spaciousness to the natural arrangements, but the earthy instrumentation - that mixes traditional roots-music instruments with standard modern rock electronics - give these expertly crafted pop and folk compositions the same sense of magic created decades before by acts such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and, at least in the songwriting department, The Beach Boys.

The band chose famed 16th Century Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder's famed painting "The Blue Cloak" for their album cover, and it's an apt one. While the painting depicts dozens of literal renditions of famous Dutch proverbs (such as "banging one's head against a brick wall" and "swimming against the tide"), it's more the sense of both European rustic country life and the rejuvenating feeling of rebirth at springtime that ties both Bruegel's art and Fleet Foxes' breathtaking music together. [A tip for those of you that still have turntables, this album is available as a a double vinyl set, complete with not only the bonus vinyl pressing of their Sun Giant EP, but also a code to download the full album and EP in mp3 format. The naked sound and warmth from the vinyl version is unquestionably the best way to experience this effort. And for those who miss the artistic expression and nearly lost-art of album covers, this gatefold cover is a real beauty to behold.]

Turn down the lights, light a candle and let this collection of hushed bliss and melodic folk sonnets straight from the forest carry you away to a better, more peaceful place.

Watch Fleet Foxes - "White Winter Hymnal"

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