A colleague who likes Fleet Foxes recently argued that the band's music isn't meant for contemplating up close, that its soft edges push it into the deep background and tend to keep it there, where it belongs. This is interesting, not because I don't like Fleet Foxes, but because I'm a big fan of this approach. It's also interesting as Fleet Foxes, a folk-rock group who like Pet Sounds a lot, seem at least as invested in songs that grab and hold; the daubed aural pastels surrounding their basic, often acoustic focal points is just icing.
Basic may sound like an odd word for a group already so familiar with recorded sound's widescreen possibilities and adept at deploying their own precise harmonies. But it's also a word that kept coming up when concentrating on Fleet Foxes. Phil Ek's ambitious, carefully wrought production (aided by the group's own home demos, many of which help furnish the finished product) isn't quite like anything I've ever heard—not even Pet Sounds. A track like "Quiet Houses" plainly aspires toward the epic but retains the modesty at its spiritual root, all while throwing in plenty of mid-'60s instrumental touches.
So why is Fleet Foxes ultimately unmoving? That very elusive wispiness they've captured in their sound is in the songs, too—the parts are more memorable than whole verses, for example. This is probably appropriate for an album so parts-y, but I stumble on it anyway. The other thing—and I realize I will catch hell for saying this—is the harmonies: They're perfect, clear, a little unearthly, and a little too choirboy-pure for my taste. And so is the rest of the album.