September 10, 2011
Fleet Foxes: Derivations and Algorithms
It is hard to be original in almost every creative art, including music. Music has definite rules and regulations. The sounds can't be random collections of noise or silence, a la John Cage, or it's not really music. John Cage's 4 minutes, 33 seconds of silence is more of a philosophical or artistic statement than, say, actual music. When a band takes the stage, each musician can't play in their own key or a different tempo. The discordant sounds just wouldn't make sense and it wouldn't be very pleasant to listen to. Absolute freedom simply results in anarchy. There's a lesson here for today's Tea Party that insists on the evils of all government rules. There must be harmony and structure for music which necessarily limits the amount of creativity. There must be boundaries for there to be meaning. OK, I'm not breaking new ground here but neither are the Fleet Foxes.
Of course, FF does more than pay homage to the harmonizing of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young or the Beach Boys (during their psychedelic phase), but not by much. This doesn't necessarily result in an unpleasant evening- especially on a warm Berkeley night at the Greek Theater. It's tough not to enjoy an evening of carousing with friends, pitchers of margaritas and a show at the Greek.
Lead Singer Robin Pecknold does a very good Graham Nash and the band's retro-folky psychedelic performance was solid and professional. They can't help it if they are such big fans of The Byrds, Strawberry Alarm Clock, CSNY, that they sound just like them. Besides, not many modern folk-indie outfits can sing harmonies quite as well as FF. This is music for campfires and late-nights in college dorm rooms.
You could do worse and believe me, I've seen far worse bands- which is a pretty backhanded compliment considering how much I enjoyed the concert. Even the retro designs and patterns on the large screen behind the band were a perfect match for the music and the evening. Of course, FF is all about stripping down the sound before building it back up, voice by voice, not excepting the simple algorithm of the 1995 Windows screensaver projected on the large screen.
The stripped down sound and 1960s sensibility does help to dilute FF's grander philosophical pretensions in the music's lyrics. Many songs comment on mankind's place in the universe and our relations to nature, ourselves and one another- the kinds of things that it's nice to hear young artists contemplating and expressing in their songs. And FF is a band of young artists. In fact, they have only been around 3 years. Hopefully, they will continue to develop and grow and, maybe even push the boundaries of their neo-indie folk harmonies.