Fleet Foxes are a Seattle-based indie-folk/Baroque Pop sextet, originally built up around school friends Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset. After releasing a self-titled debut EP in 2006, they rose to fame and much critical acclaim in 2008 with the EP Sun Giant and a full-length album (also self-titled). A new studio album called Helplessness Blues was released in 2011.
Their music features lots of complex instrumentation and vocal harmony, inviting many comparisons to The Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, along with other acts from the Sixties and Seventies. The general atmosphere often evokes a somewhat Autumnal feel, similar to the likes of Nick Drake. Ultimately, however, the Fleet Foxes stand out it the music world as a very original act. The band's skilled musicianship and Pecknold's talent for songwriting have also attracted much praise by music fans and press alike.
The second album differs from the first in several ways. The instrumentation features violins and flutes (courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson) and fewer electric instruments. The songs are much more subject-based in their lyrics rather than being purely poetic. Many of them were inspired by the difficulties experienced in coming to terms with new-found success and creating the new record, as well as general reflections on ageing and finding one's place in the world.
After the second album and an exhausting tour, Pecknold made a quiet announcement in 2013 saying that the Foxes were on an indefinite hiatus. Pecknold started questioning if music was really his passion, wanting to maybe aim for a different career path. Then, in 2016 it was hinted that the Foxes were working on a new album and were back together. It was finally confirmed on Christmas day, and was released as Crack-Up in June 2017. Their fourth studio album, Shore, was released on September 22, 2020.
Current band members:
- Robin Pecknold
- Skyler Skjelset
- Casey Wescott
- Christian Wargo
- Morgan Henderson
- Fleet Foxes (2008)
- Helplessness Blues (2011)
- Crack-Up (2017)
- Shore (2020)
- Fleet Foxes (2006)
- Sun Giant (2008)
Their music provides examples of:
- Arcadia: The island of Innisfree is mentioned in both "Bedouin Dress" and "The Shrine / An Argument" on Helplessness Blues. It is a place of harmony and consistency, in contrast to the uncertainty of the modern world.
- Break Up Song: "The Shrine/ An Argument".
- Celebrity Elegy: "Sunblind" is Robin Pecknold's tribute to musical influences of his who have died: David Berman, Richard Swift, John Prine, Bill Withers, Elliott Smith, Arthur Russell, Judee Sill, Chris Bell, Marvin Gaye, Nick Drake, Otis Redding, Jeff Buckley, Duncan Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and "Curtis" (who Pecknold said refers to both Curtis Mayfield and Ian Curtis).
- Child Ballad: Robin Pecknold's solo cover of "False Knight on the Road" appeared as the B-side to "Mykonos" and on the deluxe edition of their first album.
- Digital Piracy Is Okay: Robin Pecknold has come out in defense of downloading songs off the internet, saying this is how he acquired much of the music that inspired him.
- Driven to Suicide: A since-deleted interpretation of the "In the doorway, holding every letter that I wrote/In the driveway, pulling away, putting on your coat/In the ocean, washing off my name from your throat" passage of "The Shrine/An Argument" on a lyrics forum poignantly theorized that the narrator's heartbroken lover ends their own life by driving their car into the sea.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: Their first official release, the self-titled EP, is of a more conventional indie pop/rock bent compared to their subsequent releases.
- Epic Rocking: "Ragged Wood" (5:07), "The Plains / Bitter Dancer" (5:54), "The Shrine / An Argument" (8:07), "I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar" (6:25), "Third of May / Ōdaigahara" (8:45), "Crack-Up" (6:24), "Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman" (5:10)
- Grief Song: "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song", possibly. Lines suggesting this include "Through the forest, down to your grave/Where the birds wait, and the tall grasses wave" and "Dear Shadow, alive and well, how can the body die?", as if the character is asking the spirit of the deceased why they left.
- I Am the Band: Both types 1 and 4.
- All of the band's original songs are credited to Pecknold alone, save one: "Going-to-the-Sun Road", for which Brazilian singer/songwriter Tim Bernardes provided a verse in Portuguese. "I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar" and "I Should See Memphis" feature string sections credited to Gabriel Gall; however, elements as these are typically filed under arrangement rather than songwriting.
- Pecknold is credited with performing most instruments and vocals on the band's releases. The first three albums include a range of contributions from other members, whereas Shore features only Pecknold (and a handful of outside collaborators). Pecknold also self-produced Crack-Up and Shore, though the former was done in collaboration with guitarist Skyler Skjelset.
- Pecknold has been credited as a featured artist and other small releases under his own name. However, his more prominent 2020s collaborations with Big Red Machine and Post Malone see him credited as "Fleet Foxes", despite his being the only one of the band involved.
- Since Crack-Up, Pecknold has done most interviews on his own.
- Despite Pecknold's dominance, Skjelset has also been in the band since its inception, with keyboardist Casey Wescott joining shortly afterwards. Both remain with the band, as do later recruits Christian Wargo, who joined before Sun Giant, and Morgan Henderson, who joined before Helplessness Blues.
- Loudness War: Inexplicably, Crack-Up, at least on CD, clips constantly and has a dynamic range of DR6. Not the kind of mastering you'd expect for a chilled-out Folk Rock band.
- Lyrical Dissonance: The line "Sunlight over me no matter what I do" from "The Shrine/An Argument" may evoke cheerful thoughts, but the way in which Robin sings it suggests raw anguish. It would almost seem that he's cursing the sun itself.
- Medley: All of the "slash songs"from "The Plains / Bitter Dancer" to "Quiet Air / Gioia"can be considered as such, with each consisting of at least two distinct or otherwise unrelated sections. However, several songssuch as "Mykonos", "Ragged Wood", and "Helplessness Blues"do so similarly even though their titles do not indicate as much.
- Modulation: As mentioned above, many songs change key signature at least once.
- Non-Appearing Title: "Anyone Who's Anyone", "Sun Giant", "English House", "Sun It Rises", "White Winter Hymnal", "Ragged Wood", "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song", "He Doesn't Know Why", "Bedouin Dress", "Battery Kinzie", "Lorelai", "Blue Spotted Tail", "- Naiads, Cassadies", "Kept Woman", "Crack-Up", "Jara", "Featherweight", "Maestranza", "Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman"
- Conditional examples: "Grown Ocean" ("Children grown on the edge of the ocean"), "On Another Ocean" ("On the other ocean"), "A Long Way Past the Past" ("Been a long way from the past"), "I'm Not My Season" ("I'm not the season I'm in")
- Out-of-Genre Experience: At the end of "The Shrine / An Argument", what seems like a calm, folky outro is suddenly interrupted by a Free-Jazz-style segment featuring an atonal horn section. The jarring effect is presumably meant to represent the eponymous Argument in musical form.
- Progressive Rock: Crack-Up is frequently categorized as progressive folk, and Helplessness Blues has pretty substantial elements of the genre as well.
- Shout-Out: "Montezuma" earns its title from a reference to the Marine's Hymn", also known as "The Halls of Montezuma": "Oh man, what I used to be / Montezuma to Tripoli".
- Siamese Twin Songs: "Cassius, -" and "- Naiads, Cassadies" offer the clearest exampletheir titles even suggest itbut there are segues of some sort between most songs on Crack-Up.
- A more abstract example: Helplessness Blues closer "Grown Ocean" is in the key of F, but it ends before resolving to the F chord... which is what Crack-Up opener "I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar" begins with. All the more satisfying when one considers that there was a gap of six years between the two albums.
- Singing Simlish: "Heard Them Stirring" consists entirely of "oohs" and "aahs".
- Single Stanza Song: "White Winter Hymnal."
- Snow Means Death: "White Winter Hymnal," possibly.
- Something Blues: "Helplessness Blues", although it is not a blues song.
- The Something Song: "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song."
- Title Drop: Only the titles of "She Got Dressed", "In the Hot Hot Rays", "Textbook Love", "Oliver James", "If You Need To, Keep Time on Me", "Mearcstapa", "Fool's Errand", "Can I Believe You", and "Young Man's Game" feature prominently. In all other instances where the title does appear, it does so only once briefly.
- To the Tune of...: Rhythmically and melodically, "Lorelai" is largely an homage to Bob Dylan's "4th Time Around" (itself an homage to The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood"), likely as a way to pay tribute to one of their major influences.
- Uncommon Time:
- "Battery Kinzie" jumps around between 4/4, 6/4, and a bit of 2/4, 3/4, and 5/4.
- The second section of "The Shrine / An Argument" is in 13/4, or (4+3+3+3)/4.
- "Can I Believe You" includes a bar of 6/4 (or 2/4, depending on how it's counted) in its A and B sections. Robin has he wrote it in an attempt to sneak an uncommon time signature into what sounds otherwise like a radio-friendly single.
Their music videos provide examples of
- Animated Music Video: All but "He Doesn't Know Why" (which, as it's a basic performance video, was the only one left out of their 2021 music video retrospective). Each has been directed by Sean Pecknold, Robin's older brother and a filmmaker by trade.
- The video for "Mykonos" is a stop-motion narrative cartoon made mainly with cut-out triangles, animated to the rhythm of the song.
- "White Winter Hymnal" has a claymation video, reflecting on the themes of ageing and the passage of time.
- By god is "The Shrine / An Argument"" deranged! Like "Mykonos" it also appears to tell a story, but this time with an antelope in the leading role, accompanied by the denizens of your worst nightmares.
- Multiple Head Case: The giant two-headed horned serpent from the music video for "The Shrine / An Argument". Appropriately enough, the two heads seem rather argumentative.
- Our Monsters Are Weird: Some very bizarre creatures appear in the music video for "The Shrine / An Argument".