‘It’s hard to hate but hard to love as well’
Is it second time lucky for Fleet Foxes, asks Daragh Downes
HOW MANY STUDIO engineers does it take to change a lightbulb for Robin Pecknold? No need, man – “sunlight over me no matter what I do”. It’s all too easy to take the Mícheál out of the studied pastoralism of Fleet Foxes and their frontman. Any twentysomething Seattleite who can unblushingly tell you he went down among the dust and pollen to the old stone fountain in the morning after dawn is asking for trouble. But is this whole rustic authenticity thing little more than a contrived schtick aimed at the key Alienated Suburbanite demographic?
Our June Album Clubbers, not being cynics, don’t buy this charge. Seasoned musicians themselves, they know just how much tender loving craft goes into putting together the band’s signature Crosby, Stills and Nash harmonies and lush acoustic textures. However, each of our Popicals has come away from Helplessness Blues troubled by what they see as an ongoing lack of depth, originality and risk. very fully formed pastiche. I think that among younger people there’s definitely a personality type who is kind of envious of some supposed age before there were flashing neon lights everywhere and the internet. And they see these guys and they go, ’Oh wow these guys get it, they get what I like.’ ”
Mike Stevens has nothing in principle against full-blown retromania, but makes the case that it can only work if it has genuine character of its own. “Fleet Foxes are really good at artifice. They create this idea that they have great depth, and then once you kind of dig past the artifice, there’s no real substance there. It’s the image, the beards. It’s the name Fleet Foxes, it makes you think of Olde Worlde folky images. I also find myself kind of being duped by the music because I’m a sucker for big-sounding beautiful pop sounds.”
Stevens wishes the band would ease up on their multi-layer vocal harmonies. “They pile on loads of reverb and it’s almost like, okay we know you can do that, that’s a nice trick in the studio, but it’s been done and done and done. There’s only so much of it that you can take before you get bored.”
On first listen he was tempted to dismiss the entire album as “just a mush of Fleet Foxness”. But tracks such as Bedouin Dress and Lorelai have grown on him. If only he could get past the annoying lyrical archaisms and the lack of original musical vision. “It’s nice, a nice amalgamation of loads of different things that have been done before.”