Looking back at the folkies' first foray...
'Fleet Foxes'

10 years ago this week Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut was released in the UK, and it’s fair to say a lot has changed since.

For example in 2008 MySpace was still useful, though it was on the wane, and it was there that Fleet Foxes indicated their promise in late 2007. Even still, few were expecting ‘Fleet Foxes’ to reach number three in the UK charts the next year.

Since then the group has seen line-up changes. Former drummer Josh Tillman has released eight albums, either under J Tillman or Father John Misty, and contributed to albums by Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Other members have pursued solo projects and collaborations, working with the likes of Shabazz Palaces and Beach House.

2011 follow-up ‘Helplessness Blues’ was well-received and reached number two in the UK charts. The group went on hiatus as frontman Robin Pecknold took Humanities classes at Columbia. Their latest, ‘Crack-Up’, made it on to plenty of end of year lists and got 8.7 and Best New Music from Pitchfork, a publication that has blood on its hands when it comes to this sort of thing, as the one-time nexus of Americana.

‘Crack-Up’ was a much more expansive and ambitious record, and more recent reviews haven’t come with endlessly wheel-outable quotes like this one: ‘a landmark in American music, an instant classic’.

A decade afterwards ‘Fleet Foxes’ has certainly entered into the canon of American music, and into the British one too, which is not too surprising given that its spectral, polished harmonies drew so heavily upon the former, haunted by the ghosts of Beach Boys (decked out in plaid rather than breezy linen), The Band, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Love and James Taylor.

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But it unleashed a movement firmly certainly Of Its Time, especially over here. The twee ‘nu-folk’ scene ran parallel, acting as a kind of foil. Whilst acknowledging the differences between many of these groups’ sonics, it’s not hard to see how they could be conveniently lumped together in the press.

Fleet Foxes’s debut competed with Adele’s ‘21’ in the charts and got them a Brit award nomination. All the while Laura Marling and Mumford and Sons – with whom Fleet Foxes headlined last year’s Latitude Festival – were making waves.

What else is there to say about the latter? They did meet with ‘cargo cult intellectual’ Jordan Peterson recently. If that’s what ‘staying relevant’ means… They do continue to rack up almost seven million monthly listeners on Spotify though. The faux-rural uniform of oiled Red Wing boots, oiled beards and waxed chore jackets is out of vogue, as is the behatted-farmer-decked-in-naff-tweed look (looking at you, M and Sons).

But the positives that have come out of it more than out-weight the negatives. Released on Bella Union, Fleet Foxes’s self-titled effort played a considerable role in the independent label’s success.

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The success of ‘Fleet Foxes’ also led to a renewed interest in Americana. There was Animal Collective’s warped take on it, for example. Clash crowned ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ Album of the Year in 2009, and it reached – surprisingly – 26 in the UK charts. That was their eighth studio album, but it’s 2018 and they’re touring ‘Sung Tongs’, their fifth, this year. ‘Stasis’ comes to mind.

Fleet Foxes paved the way, or at least opened the doors (and held them open, or put a doorstop which would be set to crumble or dissolve in, say, five years’ time) for a rush of new or recently-established artists on both sides of the Atlantic. Some are floundering slightly or have disappeared from view: Iron & Wine, Stornoway and Band Of Horses, for example. Others continue to enjoy commercial and critical success, even if that has meant substantial creative reinvention, as in Bon Iver.

Groups like Grizzly Bear acknowledged their debt to Fleet Foxes and continue, albeit no longer riding the crest of the wave. Otherwise, Local Natives, First Aid Kit, Dirty Projectors, The War On Drugs and Frightened Rabbit come to mind. Even if they don’t share broadly similar musical characteristics, they seem to recall at least the ethos of the wave, its numen.

In 2018 Fleet Foxes continue too. While no longer the chart-bothering folkies they once were, they’re still playing nights at Brixton and are set to headline Green Man for the second time, where you can probably expect to hear a smattering of songs from their debut.

And that's where it was tailor made to be absorbed, in fairness; endless fields dazzled in sunshine, those gilded harmonies searching out once more over the heads of thousands upon thousands of fans bonding with the shared connection of music, and a time, and a place.

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Words: Wilf Skinner

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