By David Werther.
Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop Records, 2008)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder's painting, The Blue Cloak (1559), is the cover of Fleet Foxes' self-titled CD. Quickly glancing at the cover, one notices a beautiful combination of colors, a scene that includes human activity in the city, seaside, and country. On a closer look, you see all manner of curious human behavior: putting a bell on cat, throwing roses before swine, defecating out a window, biting iron, tossing feathers into the wind, putting a spoke in a wheel. Bruegel used these and other human activities, all moving seamlessly from one to another, to illustrate scores of proverbs, some of which describe the world as a place where stupidity, deception, indecision, futility, and envy reign.
The Fleet Foxes' work is similar to Bruegel's The Blue Coat. Robin Pecknold's songs, arranged by the entire band (Pecknold, Skylar Skjelset, Nicholas Peterson, Casey Westcott, Craig Curran), move seamlessly from one to another just like Bruegel's vignettes of folly and wisdom. And, as the detail and balance of Bruegel's work serves to show the viewer some darker sides of life, so too the singing and beautifully balanced harmonies of Fleet Foxes sometimes deliver up dark lyrics: "I've turned myself into a demon" (Tiger Mountain Peasant Song); "You run with the devil" (Your Protector); and, "Let your family take you back to your original mind" (He Doesn't Know Why).
The band refers to its music as "Pop Baroque" and expresses its gratitude to a diverse group of musical influences, including Charles Mingus, Brian Wilson, Marvin Gay, Levon Helm, John Lennon, and Debussy. Imagine Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains a hundred and fifty years ago, and you'll have a sense of their sound. They are not yet in the same class as their musical influences, but if this debut CD is any indication, they will be.