Day Five, and we get to Fleet Foxes, and the judges' conversation which resulted in them winning the first Uncut Music Award. Tomorrow, by the way, The Raconteurs.
Day Five, and we get to Fleet Foxes, and the judges’ conversation which resulted in them winning the first Uncut Music Award. Tomorrow, by the way, The Raconteurs.
Mark Radcliffe: Their work of seminal genius. It is the greatest record of this year, without question, for any number of reasons. The songs, every track on this, are absolutely fantastic. It’s an absolutely fascinating modern take on so many things. It’s just great to hear something where the vocals and harmonies are right in the centre of it, so the musical backing is just what you need to enhance this just perfect vocal blend. You can have great singers who don’t blend together, and these may not be great individual singers, but I’ve seen them at close quarters.
They come in in their plaid shirts and odd socks, looking like they’d come to fix the heating. They sit down, fumble around, and when they start there’s just this magical noise that emerges. It sounds, at different times, obviously like Crosby, Stills & Nash, you can’t get away from that, but there are so many others. There’s parts which sound almost medieval, there are parts of it which sound kind of African. You put the first track on, “Sun It Rises”, and you ask people when does this come from. People could pin a date almost any time in the last 80 years, but it could be yesterday. It’s just extraordinary.
I like playing records to my kids, the youngest are six and nine, they’ve got a big Creedence thing going on at the moment. They say, “he’s got a really cool voice, hasn’t he, dad?” about John Fogerty, and yes he has. There was a bit of a divide on Trout Mask Replica the other day, though. But when I first put this on, Mia, who was then eight, listened really intently and then she said, “how are they doing that?”. And that’s a childlike sense of wonder – how can this thing be created? They understand guitar-bass-drums, they understand that people sing, but how was this noise being made? It was other-worldly and ethereal, and yet passionate and intense and vivid and emotional. To me, it’s Number One out of this eight, it is head and shoulders above any other record that has been made this year and possibly for the last four or five years. I really believe it to be that good.
Tony Wadsworth: I was struggling as to which one would be my fave, and this was one of the three that I was struggling with. I agree with everything that Mark says, it is absolutely beautiful. It’s like alchemy, really, it’s magical, this beautiful mixture of sounds. When you play music you sometimes listen to the various instruments and what’s being done and it can lose that magic. Listening to this, I found myself never actually thinking about that – until I realised that I wasn’t thinking about it. It is really magical, it is very original.
One of the vocal influences that Mark didn’t mention was The Beach Boys, and it’s strange, all of a sudden a chord from Pet Sounds or Smile comes in. The songs are great and it’s everything Mark says it is, apart from being head and shoulders above Elbow! And it’s got a great sleeve.
Alison Howe: I’ve listened to this record a lot this week because finally after waiting for them for a year they’re gonna be on Later…, and actually I’m glad it’s taken a year because I’d rather have them now that people are in love with them. They’ve sold a lot of records in this country already, although most people might not have heard of them, but I think the best is yet to come. I change my mind every day this week about which song I like best. I like the whole package.
There are three records that I adore on this list, and I will change probably every hour which one is my Number One, I wish we could have a three-way tie. But I think that it is a record that lots of people will discover for a long time to come, and I think that’s a really good sign. They’ve just announced a date at The Roundhouse, and I think the Royal Albert Hall is not far away, personally.
Tony Wadsworth: They’re on Bella Union, which is Simon Raymonde’s label, who was in the Cocteau Twins. He’s got some good things on his label, but this, to me, has got a connection to the Cocteau Twins, that ethereal, magical where-does-it-come-from? kinda thing.
Allan Jones: Simon’s great, he’s been keeping us up with the bands he’s been discovering. He sent us through a link to, I think, their MySpace site. I think he emailed three or four of us in the office at the same time, we all clicked on to it immediately. As the music came out on my computer I could hear it coming out of four other computers in the office, and we all just looked at each other and went “What the fuck is this?”. It was just a glorious sound. It’s very rare for any of us in the office to agree on what we like, but there was this unanimity of feeling. It was just one track at that point, but we were all desperate to hear more.
Mark: It’s a great name, as well. Not like Drive-By Truckers. Or Elbow, for that matter.
Danny Kelly: I’m glad that Mark went first on this one, because it saves me having to weep with joy about the record. Just when you think that there are no more combinations left of human voices, no more tones for it to achieve, no more places for it to go, sometimes from across the world you hear a piece of music like this. It’s the most beautiful record, I think it exudes love in both directions. You can’t help but loving it, it’s sucking you in with this gas of human voices – I don’t hear the music at all, I know it’s in there, I just hear them singing.
But equally, I can hear the love going in to the record, there’s not a moment or a corner of this record that isn’t adored by the people who made it and cared about it and cultivated it. I don’t know how they got there, but it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. It’s wonderful, and I would want it to win.
Mark: The mystery of that adds to it. We had them on the radio show and I said “how did you get to this?” There’s early Fleet Foxes stuff, you can see it on YouTube, where they’re a pretty standard indie band. The same people are in it, but the bass player and the drummer aren’t doing any backing vocals, and it’s really ordinary. And so it seems to me that it was a chance happening that these voices, that blend, was there all along in these people that were somehow drawn together. I think that’s why it’s such a great cover, there’s bits happening everywhere and every corner. My kids loved it because they spotted someone having a dump out of the window.
Danny: Tony mentioned mid-’60s Beach Boys albums, but to me it sounded more like Surf’s Up, which is important, there’s a huge difference between youth and middle-age. The Beach Boys had stopped showing off when they made Surf’s Up, and some of the singing is better than the earlier records that people really love. Here what you’ve got is very young people showing off. One thing that young people should do is show the fuck off. It’s undignified to show off all the time (I must remind myself later when I’m on air), but it’s just a wonderful wonderful exposition of sounds. It is what it is, I don’t go into imagining what they’re gonna do next, I’ve no idea, because I don’t know if they’ll ever be able to do something as brilliant as this again.
Allan: With the Felice Brothers and the Drive-By Truckers, all the influences are manifest and you can’t help hearing them through those influences. But with this, it exists unto itself.
Danny: Everything’s contradictory, isn’t it? In the same way as we criticise the Felice Brothers or even Bon Iver when we don’t know what the fuck they’re on about, I don’t know what these people are on about either. I don’t know whether they’re happy or sad by the end of the record. I know that I’m happy, and that’s the important thing.
Linda Thompson: They are very churchy, and what they do have in common with Brian Wilson is that these guys have obviously listened to a lot of descants. I haven’t heard descant harmonies for a long time. I’ve spent a lot of my life listening to The Copper Family, The Carter Family, the Watersons and Carthys who are much rougher around the edges. These people have cleaned it up, it’s very beautiful and it’s very clear. I did like it very much, I love anything that’s kind of folksy, but it touches me more cerebrally than it does in my heart. But I hope they make a fortune, and if it won I wouldn’t be unhappy, but I like a dirtier sound myself.
Mark: I’d be surprised if it was conscious on their part to be influenced by The Copper Family, I think it’s a more naturalistic thing that’s happened.
Linda: It does sound a lot like the New Lost City Ramblers as well, it’s very back to the ‘60s.
Danny: I hear what you’re saying and I’m not disagreeing with you, but I love the Watersons particularly, and I do hear that one is clean and one is dirty, but I don’t think they’ve cleaned it up. They’ve just arrived at a different place.
Tony: It’s interesting that there are no brothers in the band, no common blood, because I would have thought there would be, judging by the voices.
Danny: I know nothing about singing, really I don’t, but the blood thing clearly does bring something to the party, but you can work at this, as I understand it.
Tony: Also, isn’t it ace that we’ve got something that is so vocal, that’s quite unusual. And if something like this becoming popular gets people singing again then that’s got to be great for everybody. I think people should sing more.
Mark: I think backing vocals has become the great lost art. As multi-tracking became easier and easier, it just added to the same spectrum of sound, it was just putting middly washes in. The technology is such that you can go to Argos this afternoon and get something you would have had to go to Abbey Road for five years ago. This has stripped all that out and put singing back in. Vocals are the last unique thing that’s left, no one can be like the Fleet Foxes. No-one can buy that sound, that’s unique to them. You can sample every voice but it won’t constitute the same way.
Danny: Who knew that the person who would like it least would be Linda Thompson? There’s no telling, is there?
Linda: There’s no accounting for that, but I think I’m biased against my own genre, I really do.
Mark: I think this is its own genre.
Danny: It’s beyond genre.
Allan: It’s one of those records that you hear every four or five years, if you’re lucky, that comes along out of nowhere with no kind of background to it.