Though their wardrobe, beards and burgeoning following are all in step with the leaders of the so-called “freak folk” movement, the Seattle quintet Fleet Foxes distinguishes itself from artists such as Animal Collective and Devendra Banhart because its members are much less emphatically stoner or self-consciously eclectic, and because its self-described “baroque harmonic pop jams” have much deeper and more convincing roots.
Along with oddly appropriate cover art of a 1559 Bruegel painting of a peasant village, the Fleet Foxes display a deep and abiding love of traditional British Isles folk music under an enticing orchestral-pop filigree heavy on ’60s West Coast pop, especially the “Smile”-era Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. This belies their age—they’re all in their early 20s, and primary songwriters Robin Pecknold and Skye Skjelset claim to have done all of their musical archeology on the Internet—but the beautiful harmony vocals, the strength of the melodies and the entrancing vibe of songs such as “White Winter Hymnal,” “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and “Your Protector” can’t be denied.
As a child of the city, I’m generally much more comfortable with songs that evoke the screech of the subway rather than the twitter of the hummingbird, and “Fleet Foxes” isn’t quite the unqualified masterpiece the English music press is hailing. (The tune “Meadowlarks,” for one, is just too twee to endure.) But when it comes to pastoral tales of romping through the forests, the creeks and, um, the pastures, I haven’t heard a disc this endearing since the Incredible String Band.
Fleet Foxes perform at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park on July 19.