Fleet Foxes: Sun Giant and Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop, 2008)
I don’t know that I can honestly call the Fleet Foxes’ debut a wintertime collection of songs. A few unabashedly wintry songs are included (check out “White Winter Hymnal” and “Blue Ridge Mountains” below), but they also sing songs of summer, songs of fall, and, most of all, songs of spring:
What a life I lead in the summer
What a life I lead in the spring
What a life I lead in the winded breeze
What a life I lead in the spring
the foxes sing in a cappella harmony as the needle hits the groove on side one of the Sun Giant EP. So how do I get away with calling this a featured winter album? It is exactly this full-on seasonal frenzy that made this music so appealing on those days when our house was entombed in snow. It gave me hope in the eventual arrival of other seasons. The rustic, pastoral details of the lyrics reminded me that the natural world brings life and color, not just an overbearing white coldness. And also maybe it is more simple: despite all the hype, I really just became acquainted with this pleasant folk phenomenon at the turn of the year. Since then, many of these songs have become the definitive soundtrack to my winter. My wife loves this music too, so many times we listen to it together. And as for the winter influence, it’s hard to deny the complete appeal of lines like, “Come down from the mountain, you have been gone too long / Spring is upon us, follow my only song,” in the middle of a cold February in the Wasatch Mountains.
I mentioned hype. This album has gotten a lot of it, from the time of its release last spring through to topping a lot of end-of-year lists. I ashamedly admit that I ignored this music partly because of that hype for quite awhile (although since then I have clearly humbled myself), and I’m not exactly sure what I will write at this point that hasn’t been written a hundred times already. I could mention that this music sounds natural and organic in every way. I could speak of fine folk-inspired songwriting and impeccably arranged vocal harmonies. I could describe their sound as the King Singers collaborating with the Shins. I don’t know for sure if these things have been said or not, because I’ve been trying to avoid the reviews so I can write this without inadvertently plagiarizing anyone. I’ll just end with this recommendation: if you like the song “I’ve Seen All Good People” by Yes, you’re probably going to love Fleet Foxes. If you like Crosby, Stills & Nash, John Denver, Neil Young, Simon & Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, Peter, Paul & Mary, the Byrds, or Joni Mitchell, you’re probably going to love Fleet Foxes. If you like Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Bobby McFerrin, or My Morning Jacket, you’re probably going to love Fleet Foxes. If you like music, you’re probably going to love Fleet Foxes.
[By the way, this is another album that sounds absolutely incredible on vinyl. I know I said that about Microcastle, too, but I promise I’m not going to say that about every album I ever talk about. The vinyl edition includes the superb Sun Giant EP as a separate record in a gatefold LP, which otherwise you would have to buy or download separately. You will want to get your hands on that EP because its songs, a couple of which are sampled above, are as good as or better than those on the full length.]
Deerhunter: Microcastle (Kranky, 2008)
Microcastle is the perfect album for a snowy winter afternoon in which you find yourself at home alone in the mountains. It drifts, it floats, it accumulates. It exudes a fuzzy analog warmth and an expansive ambience that blankets the whole house (our house is cozy). Since the time that I purchased it early last November, it’s been by far my most played vinyl record, primarily because it just sounds so thick and warm and good in that format. (Don’t let that dissuade you from trying CDs or MP3s, because the analog warmth is not it’s only strength.)
The dichotomy of cool and warm sounds are what make this album so compatible with winter listening; it’s like watching that snowstorm out of the window of a fire-warmed house, while the wind is howling through the top of the door and the walls are creaking. Much of the frigidity is in the lyrics. For example, the first lines sung on the record are “Cover me, cover me / Comfort me, comfort me,” and on the track “Never Stops” (press the play button at the top of the article to listen to it if you haven’t already), you’ll learn that it’s none other than winter that never stops.
This is a tight collection of songs with just enough sonic variance around the edges to keep things interesting. The style? It’s basically 60s guitar pop/garage rock with the occasional 50s-styled rock n’ roll ballad. Think of the Byrds, think of The Zombies (“Time of the Season”), and also think of early R.E.M., Deerhunter’s fellow Georgians who also revamped this 60s style in the 80s). It’s just not that straightforward, though; the songs are stormy and occasionally obscured by a tasteful amount of ambient, shoegazer, drone, and other post-punk/indie noise tricks blowing around in the background. Think most particularly of My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth.
- The album begins with an instrumental track called “Cover Me Slowly,” a Pink Floyd meets My Bloody Valentine widescreen slowburner which leads directly into the subtle and jangley “Agorophobia,” with the aforementioned appropriate opening lines:
- “Nothing Ever Happened,” which is just an all-around great, propulsive rock song that brings all the different sounds of the album together:
- “Neither of Us, Certainly,” because it is sonically the most snowfallingest song on the album:
- “Twilight at Carbon Lake,” the closing 6/8 ballad that starts out sounding like something Elvis might have crooned over at Sun Records, but expands and erupts into a beautiful caucaphonous climax:
A final note, to more fully secure this record’s impeccable winter credibility: On the band’s official blog (more bands should have blogs; Deerhunter’s is great), lead singer Bradford Cox wrote a post lamenting the inadvertent leaking of this album months before the intended late October release date. (I just noticed they have now removed this post from their blog, so I’m now linking to an article that quotes the post.) One of Cox’s stated sadnesses over the leak was not that the band had lost a lot of potential sales from pirating, nor so much that the leak had undermined their publicity buildup scheme for the album, but rather that he had very much envisioned this music as a “fall/winter” record, designed to be listened to initially at that time of year, rather than the summer. I love that they think about this stuff as much or more than I do, and I love that they very much succeeded in creating a wintry record.
[This album also comes with a bonus CD entitled Weird Era Cont (even with the vinyl copy this second disc is a CD). It is like standing out in that snowstorm looking longingly in through the window of that glowing, warm house. Here the production is a little rougher and songcraft is sometimes secondary to sonic experimentation. It has some real gems and greatly adds to appeal of the overall package.]
Today is the first day of spring.
I was extremely reluctant to assert or admit any impending springness prior to today, but now I finally feel confidant in announcing the obvious fact of spring’s advent. This confidance comes not only from our calendar, which dictates the declaration, but more importantly from my personal observations of a transformation so universal underway that it reaches even our shadowy and recalcitrant location in Provo Canyon. This afternoon I walked a bit of the way up the South Fork Road, and the sun was out from behind the mountain and actually warm enough I could have been wearing shorts. The snow that had been everywhere just thirteen days ago is now mostly gone. The creek is quick and full of water and there are large patches of moss and green grass below its surface. There are birds twittering, there are insects in the air, and there are small creatures rustling in the undergrowth.
It’s safe to say that winter is now over without jinxing things. However, I’m not foolish enough to confuse the end of winter with the end of snow, especially in a canyon. We almost always get spring snowstorms on the Wasatch Front, even in the valleys. I have numerous childhood memories of Eastertime snow in Utah. Two years ago, if I recollect correctly, a respectable amount of snow dropped on the Salt Lake Valley one day in the middle of June. You meteorology enthusiasts at home can go check the stats if you don’t trust my anecdotal evidence.
As I have thought about this coming termination of winter, I have realized something: the moment provides an ideal alternative resolution to my failure to publish grandiose and comprehensive 2008 end-of-the-year lists, synopses, and brag-fests here at the Froz-T-Freez. Everyone else goes by the year; I’m going to go by the seasons, because it feels more natural to me, and it’s my blog so I can. In the next few days I will finally get around to sharing more winter pictures, and I will be posting features on some of my favorite albums of this past winter. The snow is melting and the creeks are filling up; the canyon has been overflowing with winter for months and it has to spill out somewhere. What better place than here? Think of it as one of those spring snowstorms: it may or may not make you slightly nostalgic for the winter, but it will all melt away in just an afternoon. At most in a day or two. Or maybe you’ll need to give it a good, patient week to totally disappear.
Imagine a room in which many of the people you have ever known at any point in your entire life are all gathered together: your best friend in 4th grade, most of your cousins, a casual acquaintance from church, your in-laws, people you barely knew in high school and rarely talked to, a couple of your aunts, your bishop, some co-workers, that girl you had a crush on in junior high, old roommates, your neighbor up the street, some close friends, some casual friends, and some people who were friends with your friends but never really friends with you. Every now and then a few more people you know come trickling into the room. Still, a few of the people you most expected or wanted to see there are notably absent.
In this room, some people are casually conversing with each other, as though it were a party. But not everyone is in agreement on this social scenario. A lot of people stand around the edges of the room, just people watching. A girl you went to college with is standing at a lectern giving a political speech, but no one really seems to be listening to her. There are several games of tag going on, and someone is also shooting spit wads around the room. In the far corner, your old high school buddy is projecting home movies onto the wall and a few people are watching them. Still others in the room are taking turns shouting out questions to the people around them, trying to get them to raise their hands to show agreement or disagreement. Your little cousin is running around giving people either noogies or wet willies. One guy is listing off every single song he has listened to, every single movie he has watched, every single book he has read, and every single place he has visited with an autistic precision. A couple sits on a couch, totally making out with each other in front of everyone. Your uncle is working the crowd for takers in a multi-level marketing scheme selling liquid hand soap. Some of the people in the room turn out to simply be cardboard cut-outs.
You yourself are just another one of the people in the crowd; what are you doing in this situation? If such a room filled with such a conglomeration of people existed, how often would you choose to visit it? What would you do when you were there, and why? Would you slam the door and run away screaming? Would you spend all your spare time there? Would you try to bring others along and show this place to them?
What if I were to suggest that you may already be visiting such a room as I have described as often as every single day of your life? You may even be carrying a portal to this room around in your pocket. If the idea of having the ability to converse and interact with so many people in such a room fills you simultaneously with fascination, consternation, and dread, then you have a sense of how I feel whenever I receive word that someone has contacted me from that magical room, and why I so often avoid going into that room, even though sometimes I kind of want to and even though sometimes I feel like I probably should.