Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.
Of course it starts off a capella. Anything else would simply be wrong. But it's the most rustic thing you've ever heard. Like a moment from the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack that didn't make the cut because it sounded a generation too early. That initial tease only lasts 20 seconds, and as we really get into that first track, the band patiently adds layers throughout its three minutes. At this point, they are simply a bird showing its plumage - a display of capabilities. If the rest of the songs were to continue this way, we would say "this is a group of extremely talented singers who harmonize as well as anyone in the history of music" and leave it at that. But by the time we get just one minute into "White Winter Hymnal" it's clear that we're here for something amazing.
Fleet Foxes certainly fit into the neo-folk movement that became a fixture of the indie circuit in the second half of the decade. Bands like Grizzly Bear, Beach House, and The Shins each put out their version of modern harmonized beauty, and though they came close, weren't quite compelling enough make the Top 50 list here. Fleet Foxes' take is not as revolutionary, and maybe it's because they stayed more true to their roots that they achieved so much in their debut self-titled album. Or maybe they're just that freaking talented.
"Ragged Wood" is perfectly named, a light, rambling piece of music that builds on what the first two tracks started. It may not be conceptually profound, but the sonic teamwork calmly soars above the slight guitar notes. "Tell me anything you want. Any old lie will do. Call me back to, back to you." It's the way they say it. Despite all the praise I've doled out, the second half of the record is even better. "He Doesn't Know Why" (video here) has all the potential energy of a building tilting ever closer to the ground but never quite collapsing.
"Your Protector" uses a driving rhythm and vocals peaking to set up the bombastic harmonies in the chorus: "You ruuuuuun with the devil." The record climaxes with the absolutely shimmering brilliance of "Blue Ridge Mountains," a song befitting the landscape it deals with. Listening to the record as a whole, I can't help be struck by two things. The first is just how incredibly together the band is, and everyone who saw them at 2008's Pitchfork Music Festival witnessed how well they can pull it off in concert. The second is that the band (and production team) clearly put in a ton of attention and effort in making this record. This is not garage rock. Each note seems cared for like a child.
I have no idea where the band will go from here. If they put out the same kind of record again, I will not be upset, but it seems hard to imagine they can outdo themselves while keeping the exact same style. All I know is that every time I play this album I find myself singing its songs out loud for about two weeks, especially in any place with a decent echo. I suppose it's not for everyone, but I wouldn't have thought it was for me, either. The music is too good not to adore it. But you can judge for yourself.
#19 - Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
#20 - The Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta!
#21 - Amy Winehouse - Back to Black
#22 - Mission of Burma - The Obliterati
#23 - Don Caballero - World Class Listening Problem
#24 - The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
#25 - Tapes 'n Tapes - The Loon
#26 - Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak
#27 - Idlewild - 100 Broken Windows
#28 - Common - Be