The unidentified man behind Fleet Foxes Sing is a vocal dead-wringer for FF’s Robin Pecknold and captures the band’s sound with 12 vocal overdubs and an acoustic guitar. What started as one cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” has grown to a small arsenal of solid pop songs stripped down to the raw emotion behind them. Fleet Foxes Sing has made all the songs available for free download on the FFS SoundCloud page, plus you can stream them below.
“It’s clean here. We’re not used to that. We dirtied up our hotel room pretty well. Put up a tent in there. True story.” That’s what Grant Olsen of Gold Leaves had to say about Madison, Wisconsin, on the band’s recent stop at the High Noon Saloon on November 7th, 2011.
Seattleite Olsen lets a bevy of influences creep into the Gold Leaves sound – the gentle slow-dance sway of oldies, the twang of the south, the psychedelic corner of the 60s – all the while tying it together with his vocals. Clear but unpolished, Olsen sounds like a more world-weary Robin Pecknold.
A live setting really let the material on The Ornament flourish. While the album is solid, Olsen’s tour band really took to the material and gave it a warmth and the extra breath of life that only takes hold when a band is on stage. In a post-show listen, the album seemed a little fuller and the best songs even better, particularly “Cruel & Kind” and “Hard Feelings”.
In not pinning itself to any one influence, Gold Leaves achieves a natural sound that reminds us of everything and nothing all at once, and gives us an inadvertently intimate look at Olsen himself.
Helplessness Blues, the second full-length from Seattle’s Fleet Foxes, is a meandering foray into picked guitar, instrumental experimentation, and thick vocal harmonies. Where Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut was dominated by clean, bright vocals and Americana-inspired tunes, Helplessness Blues skews a little further toward the place where folk and psychedelic meet.
Fleet Foxes is probably best known for the members’s ability to harmonize, and there’s no lack of group vocals on the album. For the most part they’re as beautiful as ever, “Helplessness Blues” offering the prettiest arrangement of the bunch. In “The Plains/Bitter Dancer” the band spices the vocals up a bit by incorporating some minor harmonies before exploding into a happy hosanna. The only point where the bands harmonizing goes astray is on “Bedouin Dress”. Overall the song has a trippy 60s vibe, like the band had gone skipping through a field of poppies before recording. The vocal harmonies, though, can sound a little too much like a barbershop quartet. Though beautifully sung, the quality is incongruous to both the song and album.
The base around which Fleet Foxes’ songs are built is Robin Pecknold. Lead singer and the band’s songwriter, Pecknold voice and vision guide the band. “Blue Spotted Tail” is just Pecknold and a guitar; simple, quiet, and intimate, it centers the listener and draws him or her in. Pecknold’s voice is most impressive when singing the phrase “sunlight over me no matter what I do” on “The Shrine/An Argument” because he cedes some control and lets some feeling show. In a recent interview, Pecknold talks of writing and re-writing the album, his perfectionism convincing him that every song could be better, different, tweaked. You can hear evidence of this on Helplessness Blues – so much of it is calculated that this sole yelp of emotion stands out as the album’s high point.
Helplessness Blues has some really lovely moments, and Pecknold and crew get points for taking risks, but the album isn’t as easy to connect with as their debut. It will be interesting to see how the new material plays out in concert; past performance has proved they’re an incredible live act. What doesn’t quite cement on tape may be mind-blowing in person.
Helplessness Blues drops 05.03.11.
Download “Helplessness Blues” here.