Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold is young enough to be a Calvin student. At 22, Pecknold has already released two critically acclaimed albums, toured with Wilco, and appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. His group's coming-down-the-mountain sound – a tight weave of finger cymbals, singing in the round, and reverb-sticky guitars – has the warm tones of home in a great Northwestern winter, the crackling way a marshmallow melts off of the stick and into the fire.
"In the past, when I was writing music, I felt like if a song was 'good,' that's all it needed to be. But I don't want to believe that anymore. There are enough 'good' songs. I want to think it has to be more than that,” Pecknold told Spin magazine's online counterpart. Pretty ambitious words, particularly coming from someone who isn't exactly a seasoned veteran of the music industry. True to its creator's words, though, Fleet Foxes bubbles and pops with weaving, intricate vocal melodies and song structures; choruses appear and disappear in clouds of reverb and harmony, drums flutter in and out of the mix, and keys change with precision. And somehow, despite the technically challenging music, both the self-titled record and this spring's Sun Giant EP make for remarkably easy listening.
Maybe that's why writers are having such trouble describing their sound. The same words keep appearing in Fleet Foxes review – woodsy, harmony, reverb – but while those words certainly point in the group's direction, they don't do justice to their ambition. “Sun It Rises,” the opening track on the self-titled record, begins with a woozy a capella harmony, shifts immediately into foggy organ groans before climaxing in what that sounds like a late-night jam session amongst medieval minstrels, which finally gives way to some Modest Mouse-style guitar noodling – all in the span of three minutes. Pecknold also has a natural ability to twist an image with the simple grace of a leaf falling from a tree; “White Winter Hymnal”'s vocal chants build and fall upon themselves, wrapping themselves around a group of children and shouting as one falls and “turns the white snow red as strawberries in the summertime.” It's one of the prettier accounts of a young death you're bound to hear this year.
More than anything, though, this is music that demands your attention. Like the Silver Jews, Fleet Foxes cannot be appreciated at half-volume, buried behind the fuzz of homework or conversation; this is music whose simple beauty belies its almost-overwhelming complexity, flickers of red tails dashing in and out of the mix almost taunting you to into grabbing them.