Ever listen to Jacopo Peri? Yes, he is a composer from the 1600's or something, but four part baroque harmony is definitely being channeled on Fleet Foxes new album, Ragged Wood (Sub Pop)... that is, if Peri was also influenced by the old American west and folk songs. Other influences include a love of nature, simplicity, flowers, trees, the 1960's, and many of their contemporaries. But hey, it's some pretty solid stuff.
Fleet Foxes even said they wanted to get back to the basics with this album, from their previous efforts to a more organic, natural sound. Are they hippies? By no means (although their looks could have fooled us). The emphasis on four part harmonies and simple melodies is an attempt to get back to the days of bands like Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and The Zombies. The result is an album full of lyrics about friends, family, and nature. Not to mention songs that sound like two songs in one, or long four part rounds. "White Winter Hymnal" sounds like, well, a hymnal. Then there are tracks like "Your Protector" which start with some really simple woodwinds in the beginning and build to a rousing crescendo of layers and harmony.
The building and stripping of instrumentals is beautifully crafted throughout the record, which rises and falls like someone's chest while they are sleeping peacefully (for arguments sake, lets say hibernating). It's soft and smooth at every turn, with a quiet intensity which builds and retracts in nearly every track.
There is a lot to be said for the simplicity of the album; in it's more bare, vocal driven moments, it really shines. "Bob Valaas" starts with a simple strum and some serious vocals, both ethereal and haunting. "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" sounds so folksy; we'd believe it was passed down from generations ago. Listen closely to the beginning though; are the tiger mountain peasants actually the karma police in disguise? You decide. -joe puglisi