What happened to rock and roll? I know, that’s a very old man, out of touch thing to ask. But what happened that audiences seem content with watered down, soft, wet music with no guts to it? Until now, I would have lazily blamed it on Mumford and Sons, just because they have a high enough profile that I’ve actually heard of them. But now I have a new target for my aging rock fan anger. Now, I have Fleet Foxes and their oh so creatively titled album, Fleet Foxes.
Look, opening an album with bearded white guys in their 20s busting out some gospel style harmonies isn’t the most promising start, but I’m trying to keep an open mind and give the album the benefit of the doubt, at least for the first few songs. But Sun it Rises is kind of a perfect amalgamation of everything I was fearing Fleet Foxes might be. Put on heart and soul, stretching to sound earned, that just seems very calculated to me.
When they double down on all of that same shit, only way worse, with White Winter Hymnal. I think, at worst, I was expecting Fleet Foxes to be loaded with moustache wax, waste coats and neo folk, like Mumford and Sons. What I got was something just as bad, but at least in a completely unexpected way. It’s less folk, more religious sounding (in tone, not necessarily lyrically).
Things get a little more oomph with Ragged Wood and it’s definitely for the better. If this was the level of Fleet Foxes at their quietest, most restrained, I could see Fleet Foxes being a good album. But unfortunately, four tracks in (including Tiger Mountain Peasant Song) it seems like that’s about as big as the balls get with this band.
As Quiet Houses began to limp out of my speakers, I realised something. If it wasn’t for a track listing and slight silences between each song, it would be close to impossible to distinguish one song from another. Each Fleet Foxes song is more anonymous than the last. If you ditched the empty aural space in between, Fleet Foxes would almost sound like a DJ set by some vegan in a vintage cardigan, who’s iron deficiency means they can barely lift the needle on their turn table to let this album cough and wheeze to the finish.
Then, when He Doesn’t Know Why comes along, Fleet Foxes basically give their listeners the finger. Because this song has energy, it has heart it has real feeling. Basically, He Doesn’t Know Why (and later, Your Protector) has everything that every song before it lacks. And, they do it without betraying the sound they obviously see as their thing. This song isn’t all of a sudden loud, or fast, or like it came from a completely different band. It uses the same ingredients as the snooze inducers before it, but it just brings it to life in a way that eludes them for most of this album.
I can’t argue that the musicianship on display on Fleet Foxes isn’t good. I can’t argue that the vocals and harmonies aren’t spot on. I can’t even argue that the melodies aren’t generally pretty good. Yet, for some reason, this rarely adds up to anything even approaching the sum of its parts. If the band doesn’t even bother to sound interested in their music, why should I?