I missed out on their debut EP when it first came around a couple months ago, but fortunately I checked out this full-length release from Fleet Foxes, a quintet from Seattle that have plenty of things in common with a lot of contemporary bands, but don't sound exactly like any of them. They have the reverb-heavy feel and soaring vocals of earlier My Morning Jacket (lead singer Robin Pecknold definitely resembles Jim James in places), some of the woozy splay of label-mates Band Of Horses, and a bit of the spectral harmonies of Grizzly Bear. They also don't overlook earlier influences, with a hint of AM gold and touches of different bands from both the 60s and 70s.
Musically they're solid, but it's really their vocal harmonies that set them apart. They seem to realize this, and the album both opens and ends with nothing but voices. "Sun It Rises" kicks things off with an almost hymn-like four-part harmony that soon melts into a warm SoCal breeze before again falling away to those lovely harmonies and guitar. "Ragged Wood" (which was apparently going to be the name of the album itself for awhile) changes gears a bit and chugs into a soaring rock track that features everything from subtle layering of banjo to some juicy organ.
Although the group doesn't rock out heavily for the most part, they make their living with smaller shifts in sound that are still incredibly effective. The beautiful "He Doesn't Know Why" is a perfect example as it winds through a graceful opening section with mingling piano and guitar and sparse drums before the ivories take the lead for a dizzying march and finally a quiet coda. Recorded by upper northwest mainstay Phil Ek, the album has a pastoral quality that suits the music itself, highlighting the guitar and vocal work while wrapping everything in a soft mist.
While some of the more ballad-style songs don't work quite as well, when the group locks into their forest-style jams (as on the flute-laced "Your Protector"), they tap into a woodsy folk-rock beauty that's hard to deny. As with many releases like this, I wish the ride were just a little bit more bumpy just to throw off expectations, but nonetheless Fleet Foxes have put out quite an enjoyable little debut here.