I hate comparisons.
Let's just get that out in the open straightaway. Anyone who knows me knows (or should know) full well that I nearly shrivel up and die whenever my name is inserted into a sentence that begins like, "______ reminds me of ______." The comparison could be flattering ("Laurel reminds me of Christy Turlington. But younger. The younger Christy Turlington. Not that it would necessarily be a bad thing since even though she's like 40 now, Christy Turlington is pretty slamming, you know what I mean? Well, Laurel is like that.") or rather unflattering ("Laurel is like a lump of coal."), but it doesn't matter. Anytime a well-meaning (but misguided) soul thinks it fitting to blurt out their opinion on what or who I remind them of, I have a strong and evil urge to compare their spleen to bubble wrap and pop, pop, pop away.
I suppose you could say, Laurel is like a psychopath.
But I digress. The point is, comparisons (though I'm guilty of comparing other people, natch) are nearly always unfair, no matter how flattering one thinks they might be. So it is with this disclaimer that I launch into a longwinded
diatribe (the positive type of diatribe. Is there such a thing? I shall consult Webster's. [pause] Ah. Turns out there really isn't a positive form of diatribe. I stand corrected) spiel about Fleet Foxes' latest self-titled album.
Let's be out with it: This album reminds me of My Morning Jacket (of the inimitable Z years, and far less like the somewhat baffling Evil Urges), Chutes Too Narrow-era Shins, and to a lesser extent, Band of Horses (again, first full length and not the subsequently inferior EP). Obviously there are a myriad of other influences, from Appalachian folk standards to baroque melodies to 60's-era Beach Boys, but for all intents and purposes, those three specific artists/albums are the focus today.
Sure, there are the moments when Fleet Foxes' melodic structure mimics James Mercer's atmospheric hooks, and Foxes' lead singer Robin Pecknold's soaring timbre and pronunciation might well be ripped Little Mermaid-style straight from the throats of Jim James or Ben Bridwell. There are those moments. And sure, comparisons are wont to be made because you can't listen to an album so self-assured and seeped in southern hospitality without inferring certain influences along the way.
But the main reason I cite MMJ and the Shins (and, as I said, to a lesser extent, BofH) as the Big 3 Influences of Fleet Foxes' sepia-toned romp through the woods isn't because of the aural similarities at all. It's because those (Z, Chutes Too Narrow, Everything All the Time) albums seemed to chug along at breakneck speed, appearing over the horizon and hitting me square in the face with their uniform and unparalleled excellence.
If you're honest with yourself as I'm honest with myself (most of the time), when listening to an album, I tend to skip around a lot. And despite plenty of assertions you might make to the contrary, I'd be the first to say that there aren't many albums whose worth remains solidly intact from track 1 through track end. Sure, there are plenty of albums whose hits outnumber their misses, but even on the best of days, when I'm scrolling aimlessly through my dark and cavernous iTunes library, the ratio of albums I'd listen to in their entirety to songs I'd select out of the whole is disproportionately in favor of the one hit wonders.
So imagine it. July 2004. The Shins' Chutes Too Narrow had been released the year before at least, and I'd owned both it and Oh! Inverted World for months before giving either of them a solid once-through (life's tough when you're a student whose sole job is to hang out 24 hours a day. Daaang). On a job-related task, I found myself cruising the labyrinthine country roads outside Salem (labyrinthine in that they go on forever and it is quite easy to get hopelessly lost; but if viewed from above I'm certain they form an orderly grid), shooting images of poppy fields and sunflowers and crops and agriculture and endless horizons of wheat. And would you know it, I listened to Chutes Too Narrow for the first time that day.
Three weeks later, I hadn't stopped listening.
It's a similar story with Z and Everything All the Time; both are albums that struck me upside the head with the blunt force of a frying pan. Of course! THIS is what a cohesive album sounds like. This is brilliant songwriting. These are some catchy ass hooks, y'all.
And so it goes. Fleet Foxes' self-titled album is just like that. Sun drenched and hazy, reminiscent and rural, the type of sound you might imagine you'd come upon while driving those same country roads in the summer of 2004, or 1974 or 1964. The Neil Young shenanigans are certainly present, to be sure, but there's an otherworldliness here as well; it's an album plucked squarely out of any particular or limiting timeframe and placed instead in the type of context that is purely nostalgia-driven. It's more about the sounds constructing (or recalling) a memory, the memory influencing the colors, the smells, and the sights. The whole thing reveals itself gracefully, block harmonies bleeding into wandering melodies, an instant classic from a band whose own lineage is less important than the one you imagine when you listen to their music.
Buy Fleet Foxes' Fleet Foxes at Amazon.