Fleet Foxes is the debut studio album by American band Fleet Foxes, released on June 3, 2008, by Sub Pop and Bella Union. The album garnered wide praise from critics, many of whom named it one of the best albums of the 2000s and one of the greatest debut albums of all time.[5][6]

Fleet Foxes
Studio album by
ReleasedJune 3, 2008
ProducerPhil Ek
Fleet Foxes chronology
Sun Giant
Fleet Foxes
Helplessness Blues
Singles from Fleet Foxes
  1. "White Winter Hymnal"
    Released: July 21, 2008
  2. "He Doesn't Know Why"
    Released: 2008
  3. "Your Protector"
    Released: 2009

Background edit

Fleet Foxes was formed in Seattle, Washington in 2006 by singer-songwriters Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset.[7] Pecknold grew up in nearby Kirkland, an affluent suburb. His parents gifted him an acoustic guitar in middle school. He met Skjelset in high school, bonded over music and similar Norwegian roots.[8] In his tenth grade year, Pecknold dropped out, completing his degree at a community college and immersing himself in music.[9] He moved into the city and secured work at a restaurant, where he joined the local outfit Dolour[10] and befriended other accomplished musicians.[11] Further, Pecknold gained connections though a job at a burrito restaurant, where he discovered more contemporary indie rock.[9]

The pair first settled on the name the Pineapples, but the name was taken by a local punk act. Instead, Pecknold thought of the name Fleet Foxes, which he felt brought to mind fox hunting.[12] The band was rounded out with Christian Wargo (bass, guitar, vocals) and Casey Wescott (keyboards, mandolin, vocals), both members of the electronic outfit Crystal Skulls, and Nicholas Peterson (drums, vocals), formerly of Pedro the Lion.[13] The band booked consistent local gigs and began receiving favorable write-ups in the press.[13]

Recording edit

The band began recording the album in 2007, in Pecknold's parents' basement[9] and Wescott's home.[8] The album was produced by veteran engineer Phil Ek, best-known for his work with other Pacific Northwest luminaries, such as Built to Spill. Ek had first met Pecknold four years prior.[9] Ek had earlier helped Fleet Foxes record their first demo and used his influence to assist in shopping it to record labels.[14] The resulting album was recorded with Ek over the course of a year. As labels had yet to get involved with the band at this point, the recording was funded by the group themselves.[14]

For the album, the group aimed to rework their existing sound into something more simple, emphasizing harmonies and unconventional song structures.[13] Pecknold described the sessions as constant and exhausting, with the album going through various phases and permutations before they settled on its final state. The album was completed at one point, but was entirely revised and re-recorded. Pecknold noted that nothing could match the idea of the album he envisioned; he continued updating its song sequence and writing new pieces up until it was set to be mixed. Band members would record their parts between shifts at their jobs,[10] and they placed their guitar amplifiers in Native American tipis for aesthetics.[12] Pecknold also suffered from sickness during the recording, which impacted his vocal takes.[10] The album was completed in November 2007,[12] with Pecknold again applying new vocal takes the night before its last mixing session.[10]

Themes edit

With [the album], we decided to put an emphasis on harmony, simple three- and four-part block harmony. The songs would be simple as well, songs about our friends and family, history, nature, and the things around us in the Pacific Northwest. Instead of complicated vocal melodies, we would try and use guitars and mandolins and banjos and other little guys to fill the melodic spaces in the music. We'd try and avoid conventional song structures, sometimes putting two songs together as one, or avoiding choruses and verses in favor of long vocal rounds and alternating instrumental sections.[13]

Robin Pecknold

The album fuses folk music, gospel, psychedelic pop, and Sacred Harp styles.[15] Rolling Stone columnist Austin Scaggs described the album's music as dense, singling out its usage of progressive countermelodies.[9] The album's harmonious arrangements were interpreted as lush[16] and textured.[8] Though the music is audibly informed by gospel traditions, Pecknold was not brought up religious. Instead, he felt the devotional aspect proved more compelling from a songwriting standpoint.[12] Its mood evokes bucolic images, yearning for easier times; Pecknold called it "uninformed nostalgia".[12]

The album's pastoral music is primarily acoustic in nature, an its lyrics autobiographical[9] and philosophic[16]—much of the topics related to Pecknold's friends and family.[12] "Blue Ridge Mountains" was originally named after Pecknold's grandfather, Bob Valaas.[12] To write the album, Pecknold traveled to a rural log cabin built by his grandfather in the small community of Plain, Washington.[12] He had just returned home after a long camping trip with his brother and sister, and the sights of nature factored into his lyricism.[11] He was open to the suggestions of his bandmates, and eager to develop songs until the unit as a whole considered it complete.[10] Pecknold, who croons in a doleful tone throughout the work,[16] had an aim to emphasize the vocal arrangements in the way that strings enrich classical music.[9] He strayed from writing love songs, and struggled with anxiety and loneliness in writing the album.[9] "White Winter Hymnal" was written about friends who abandoned Pecknold in high school.[9] Pecnkold was particularly inspired by sixties icons Bob Dylan and Brian Wilson,[9] with more contemporary influence drawn from Joanna Newsom and Elliott Smith.[8] In addition, Pecknold listed other mid-20th century acts like the Zombies, Steeleye Span, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as influences.[8]

Cover art edit

The album's cover is a painting of a peasant landscape, illustrated by sixteenth-century artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder.[8] The painting, Netherlandish Proverbs, was completed in 1559. Vocalist/guitarist Robin Pecknold notes that:

When you first see that painting it's very bucolic, but when you look closer there's all this really strange stuff going on, like dudes defecating coins into the river and people on fire, people carving a live sheep, this weird dude who looks like a tree root sitting around with a dog. There's all this really weird stuff going on. I liked that the first impression is that it's just pretty, but then you realize that the scene is this weird chaos. I like that you can't really take it for what it is, that your first impression of it is wrong.[17]

Pecknold explained to Mojo how the painting ended up on the front cover:

We were trying to figure out what we wanted to do, and my brother had been working out some stuff, when I saw that Bruegel painting in a book my girlfriend had. I liked that it had a really intriguing meaning, like there's a story to each little scene. Which I just felt fitting for that record- dense but unified, not a collage or anything. And I liked its Where's Waldo? quality, that it was something you could look at for a long time on a vinyl sleeve and find new little things. It was very easy to get the museum in Berlin that has it to say yes. They were super excited a band wanted to use it and put it in their newsletter. When you open it up on the inside there's a paisley pattern traced from the back of a book that Skye (Skjelset, lead guitar)'s mum got me. We wanted two very different feelings.[18]

The cover claimed the Best Art Vinyl Award 2008, an annual award, organized by Artvinyl.com, a company that manufactures display frames for record albums.[19]

Commercial performance edit

The album's lyricist, Robin Pecknold, was inspired by nature.

Though the band was courted by larger, major record labels,[13] sparking a bidding war,[20] they chose to sign with Sub Pop, a Seattle-based independent label. The news was first announced in January 2008. Pecknold was apprehensive about the move, perceiving that the recording quality of Fleet Foxes would be unrepresentative of the label's style. He confided in the label that he hoped for the album to fail, so they could begin writing their next one.[9] Overseas distribution was handled by the hip British imprint Bella Union.[12] Preceding the release of the album, Fleet Foxes also issued Sun Giant, an extended play later bundled with the vinyl edition of the LP. Sun Giant was recorded in only eight days, after the recording of Fleet Foxes, but was released first.[10] It was intended to only be sold at concerts, but its popularity only served to bolster the group's burgeoning breakthrough.[20]

In response to growing hype, Sub Pop adjusted its promotional plans to what they might suggest for the label's top artists. They conducted a listening parties and streamed the album on aughts digital platforms like AOL and MySpace.[12][20] Pecknold utilized the latter to update listeners on what to expect with the new album.[13] The album's rollout was a family affair: Pecknold's brother, Sean, directed a music video, while his mother initially handled accounting.[12] Pecknold's sister was a rock critic at Seattle Weekly, helping to secure coverage.[12] The album was also distributed at Starbucks locations.[11]

Fleet Foxes debuted on the Billboard 200 at number 83. It sold 8,000 units in its opening week, making it Sub Pop's second-biggest sales week of that year, behind Flight of the Conchords.[20] Within the course of the year, the musicians went from complete obscurity to worldwide fame.[8] By the end of the year, the album had moved over 120,000 copies in North America,[11] and 200,000 copies in Europe.[21] It was Bella Union's first gold certified record.[22] By November 2013, it had sold over 500,000 copies in the United States.[23]

Reception edit

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
AllMusic     [25]
The A.V. ClubB+[26]
Entertainment WeeklyA[27]
The Guardian     [28]
Mojo     [29]
Q     [32]
Rolling Stone     [33]
Spin     [34]

Fleet Foxes received widespread acclaim from the music critics.[24] At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album has an average score of 87 out of 100 based on 31 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[24] The Guardian described it to be "a landmark in American music, an instant classic".[28] Similar praise was put upon the album by AllMusic, which stated that "Fleet Foxes is such a satisfying, self-assured debut".[25]

Uncut magazine awarded the album their inaugural Uncut Award in 2008 for "the most rewarding album of the past 12 months".[6] Q magazine voted it the second best album of 2008 while it topped The Times "100 best records of 2008" list.[5] and captured the #3 slot on WERS Boston's Top 50 of 2008 list. The album was also reviewed on the 'In A Word' section of the weekly podcast EGGCAST, where it was described as 'cosy' and 'organic'. Mojo gave the debut the seldom-awarded "Instant Classic" label.[29] Until Joanna Newsom's Have One On Me in the April 2010 issue, it was the last album to receive this honor. Geddy Lee of Rush included this album among his favourites in a list from an interview with The Quietus.[35] The album was ranked #36 on Rolling Stone's 2013 list of the 40 Greatest Stoner Albums, and 88th on The Guardian's 100 Best Albums of the 21st Century list, based on a 2019 poll of music writers.[36][37]

Accolades edit

Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Amazon.com US Best Music of 2008 (Editors' Pick)[38] 2008 3
Drowned in Sound UK 50 Best Albums of the Year[39] 2008 45
Q UK 50 Best Albums of the Year[40] 2008 2
Rolling Stone US 50 Best Albums of the Year[41] 2008 11
Spin US 40 Best Albums of the Year[42] 2008 5
The Times UK 100 Best Albums of the Year[5] 2008 1
Pitchfork US 50 Best Albums of the Year[43] 2008 1
Billboard.com US 10 Best Albums of the Year (Critics’ Choice) 2008 1
Paste US Top 50 Albums of 2008 2008 6
WERS Boston US Top 50 Albums of 2008 2008 3
Under the Radar US Best of 2008 2008 1
No Ripcord UK Top 50 Albums of 2008 2008 1
Mojo UK Top 50 Albums of 2008 2008 1
Dagbladet Norway Top International Albums of 2008 2008 9
The Know Australia Top 10 Albums of 2008 2008 5
Rolling Stone US 100 Best Albums of the Decade[44] 2009 47
Rhapsody US 100 Best Albums of the Decade[45] 2009 56
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die US 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die[46] 2009 N/A

Touring and reaction edit

The band performing in Copenhagen in 2008.

The touring cycle for Fleet Foxes was far larger than the band had anticipated: it encompassed four North American legs, three European tours, Australia and New Zealand.[8] The band toured with Blitzen Trapper in the early part of the year.[20] The group made a significant stop at that year's South by Southwest, which drew the plaudit of tastemakers.[12] The band's performance was received breathlessly, prompting high-profile press pieces in major publications, like Rolling Stone.[20] The band were booked to open a tour with Wilco; at one stop, the band took the stage to duet an encore, "I Shall Be Released". They also promoted the LP with appearances at the late-night programs Saturday Night Live and the Late Show with David Letterman.[9] The band initiated their first overseas tour in the United Kingdom that June.[12] For Pecknold, the success of the tour helped to cover existing credit card debt he ensued in the making of the album.[12]

Fleet Foxes drew wide praise, and was quickly applauded as a modern classic. For Pecknold, the reaction was surprising: "Disbelief is the only sane reaction," he told an interviewer.[12] The band were part of a wave of softer, more broody indie rock, including Bon Iver and the Cave Singers.[13][21]

Track listing edit

All songs written by Robin Pecknold.

Disc one edit

1."Sun It Rises"3:14
2."White Winter Hymnal"2:27
3."Ragged Wood"5:07
4."Tiger Mountain Peasant Song"3:28
5."Quiet Houses"3:32
6."He Doesn't Know Why"3:20
7."Heard Them Stirring"3:02
8."Your Protector"4:09
10."Blue Ridge Mountains"4:25
11."Oliver James"3:23

Disc two (2008 Limited Edition) edit

1."Sun Giant"2:06
2."Drops in the River"4:11
3."English House"4:48
4."Mykonos" (alternate version)3:39

Disc two (2009 Japanese Limited Edition) edit

1."Sun Giant"2:14
2."Drops in the River"4:12
3."English House"4:40
5."Innocent Son"3:06
6."False Knight on the Road"3:45

Personnel edit

Fleet Foxes

  • Robin Pecknold – band member, songwriter, arranger, design (uncredited: lead vocals, guitar)
  • Skyler Skjelset – band member, arranger (uncredited: lead guitar)
  • Nicholas Peterson – band member, arranger (uncredited: drums, percussion, vocals)
  • Casey Wescott – band member, arranger (uncredited: keyboards, vocals)
  • Craig Curran – band member, arranger (uncredited: bass, vocals)

Additional instrumental personnel

  • Gwen Owen – flute on "Your Protector"

Production personnel

  • Phil Ek – producer, engineer, mixer
  • Ed Brooks – mastering
  • Sasha Barr – design
  • Dusty Summers – design

The liner notes do not state which instruments the band members play. Former drummer J. Tillman joined the group after recordings had been completed, but before the album was released.

Charts edit

Certifications edit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Belgium (BEA)[64] Gold 15,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[66] Platinum 534,385[65]
United States (RIAA)[67] Gold 500,000^

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

References edit

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  2. ^ "Fleet Foxes: "In this moment, pre-election, there can be some optimism in the air"". NME. 6 October 2020. Retrieved November 9, 2020.
  3. ^ David Peisner (May 31, 2017). "How the Fleet Foxes Frontman Got Out to Get Back In". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2020. Fleet Foxes' first two albums of meticulous, expansive folk-rock have sold more than two million copies worldwide
  4. ^ Ellen Johnson (September 23, 2020). "Fleet Foxes Manifest Peace on Surprise New Album Shore". Paste. Decatur, Georgia, U.S. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
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  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p McNair, James (June 13, 2008). "On the hunt for meaning with Seattle band Fleet Foxes". The Independent. Retrieved August 16, 2023.
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External links edit