Animal Graces 5 : Fleet in the Woods


Cousin Franz Cousin Franz: They may not be Fleetwood Mac–

Beatricia Beatricia: Definitely not.

Cousin Franz Cousin Franz: — but Fleet Foxes have built a folksy world of harmony in two excellent EPs (“The Fleet Foxes” and “Sun Giant”) and three great albums (their self-titled debut; “Helplessness Blues”; and now “Crack-Up.”) Singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold’s true achievement is that he takes obvious influences (Appalachian folk; the Beach Boys and their stacking of voices; and Crosby, Stills & Nash’s suites) and he quietly adds a less obvious one (Prog-Rock) to create a form of hypnotic Prog-Folk. This a quintet-going-on collective, understand, with no lesser a former member than Josh Tillman, a.k.a Father John Misty, and no lesser a current drummer than Matt Barrick of The Walkmen. But Robin Pecknold is the kind of leading man that, for all his protestations about disappearing into the crowd, actually subsumes his band and his concert-going fans into his persona. In turn, that persona wants to disappear into olden times. When he sings about “Mykonos,” he might mean a modern party island, but one hears a shout-out to an Ancient Greece.

The debut’s big hit, the often-covered “White Winter Hymnal,” might have been sung by snowblind Medieval monks.

And who knows what ancient divinity “The Shrine/ An Argument” is meant to evoke!

When Robin Pecknold sings “Montezuma to Tripoli” as a reference to the sea-changes in his life, (in a song ostensibly about whether he’s mature enough to have children already) it doesn’t feel like he’s referencing a stint in the Marines in the 2000s. In fact, it doesn’t even feel like he’s talking about the 1847 Marine attack on Chapultepec Castle (“the Halls of Montezuma”) or the Barbary Wars of the 1800s (those “Shores of Tripoli”). It feels like the song extends its reach farther back, to conquistadores and pirates.

Beatricia Beatricia: I love the hidden historical allusions in these songs. In “Ragged Woods,” when the singer pleads to be lied to “at the top of Barringer Hill,” I couldn’t help but look that up. I was rewarded with the factoid that Barringer Hill, Texas, was a fascinating draw for mineralogists in the 19th century. They discovered up to 47 new kinds of, well, ROCKS in it, and even Thomas Edison expressed interest in the place. The kicker: the hill was flooded in 1937 to create the Buchanan Dam, (not in honor of James Buchanan the President, as you might assume, but in honor of James P. Buchanan, the Texas Representative who died that year.) The point is that Barringer Hill is now deep within Buchanan Lake, so going to its “top” would require a time-machine. That impossible longing for an unrecoverable past? The Fleet Foxes’ sound in a nutshell.

Trent Trent: Haha, I think of Fleet Foxes and I think of a bunch of Fantastic Mr. Foxes joining the Navy and trying to sail the Seven Seas. Of course they drown almost immediately, because foxes can’t sail and they are as dumb as this boring lullaby-for-beardos band. No Cherry.


Tracey Tracey: Robin is really a great vocalist. Paul Simon, he reminds me of. And I think a lot about lyrics like this, from “Helplessness Blues”:

“I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me

But I don’t, I don’t know what that will be
I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see.”

He goes back again and again into songs about dissolution of the ego into a community. I mean, this is a song that would make Ayn Rand growl, but it accidentally points out an odd irony. The go-to put-down for people who care about helping others and addressing social injustice is calling them a “snowflake,” but “snow-flake-ism” is exactly the mentality of people WITHOUT empathy, the “individualistic,” “I’m-so-special-and-superior,” “Me-and-my-money-first, other-humans-a-distant-third-if-they-matter-at-all” ethos. Not that anyone can pin politics on Pecknold, or take his cries for socialism too seriously. I think he’s basically a libertarian, and, as his song wonderfully admit, still figuring things out. He’ll get back to us someday.

Father Hank Hank: He was, as Bob Dylan would say, “so much older then, he’s younger than that now.” I enjoy this band. It’s… peaceful. Like a choir of angels covered in hipster rags.  In “Third of May,” the single from “Crack-Up,” he goes back to that “snowflake vs. big machine” contrast, the “ephemeral individual vs. longer-lasting community”:

I’m reminded of the time it all fell in line, on the third of May
As if it were designed, painted in sand to be washed away
Oh, but I can hear you, loud in the center
Aren’t we made to be crowded together, like leaves?

Grandpa Felicius Grandpa Felicius: “Crowded together like leaves”? This song is wildly insensitive to the Agoraphobic and/ or Germophobic, two political parties to which I belong.

Beatricia Beatricia: I suspect the “loud in the center” and “crowded” lines is a reference to “The Third of May,” Francisco Goya’s painting protesting the 1808 murder of innocent Spaniard peasants by the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte- (and conveniently drawn after Waterloo, years after the event (No fool, that Goya!). The martyr in white is “loud at the center” in his Jesus Christ pose; the others are “crowded together.”


Grandpa Felicius Grandpa Felicius: Ah. Well, then, reference approved. As is the reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald in the “Crack-Up” album’s title. THAT I caught.

Blurbarella Blurbarella: “Foxes– Can’t sail.– They–create the– Time Machine– longing for an unrecoverable past.– Disappear into– Ancient Greece.– They are– Hit– By Medieval Monks– with– ROCKS. —  They– get back–to 1808.– Napoleon Bonaparte– is– caught.”

5 out of 6 Cherries


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