Strange to relate, but not long ago, plenty of people were tipping Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong as the next big thing. I was looking at the BBC Sound Of 2008 list a few minutes ago, to check up on the progress of their tips, and the Music Hack Hivemind appears to have managed a pretty good strikerate thus far this year.
One thing they didn’t anticipate, though, would be that even the general public would tire of bands who make Razorlight sound like raging beacons of creativity, and would tentatively turn towards an ethereal new strain of Americana for consolation. It’s a bit ambitious to suggest that Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes are likely to become multi-million selling superstars. But still, the adulation accorded these hirsute, discreet newcomers is a pleasing diversion from the plot mapped out by the music business for 2008 (entirely false modesty, of course, prevents me from revealing which Uncut staffer tipped Bon Iver in the BBC poll).
But anyway, what all this means, I suppose, is a fortuitous, fractional tilting of the music world towards our tastes, and a Meltdown slot, courtesy of Massive Attack, for the exceptionally lovely Fleet Foxes. The five boy-men from Seattle are quite good, it transpires, at dismantling the sylvan mystique which their music conjures up: between songs, there’s a surfeit of gee-shucks drollery which reveals, not for the first time, a young American band left bewildered by the speed at which Britain can embrace and deify a new group.
When they sing, though, every last holy nuance of their records is perfectly reconstructed. They begin with “Sun Giant”, four a capella voices floating immaculately about the Festival Hall. Most songs, inevitably, are fixated on those intricate, interlocking harmonies, that seem to swim around Robin Pecknold, sat benignly in the midst of it all, looking a bit like Skip Battin from my place in Row EE.
The more I hear these songs – “Your Protector”, “White Winter Hymnal”, “Bob Valaas”, “Sun It Rises”, the superb “Mykonos”, “Drops In The River”, “English House”– the stronger they seem; my initial vague worries that Fleet Foxes were ploughing a very narrow, though admittedly beautiful, furrow, seem less pressing.
There is, though, a mild suspicion that the band are so justifiably enamoured with their voices, they seem currently reluctant to mess them up and vary the dynamics of their sound. A solo spot by Pecknold, where he plays “Oliver James” and Judee Sill’s “Crayon Angel” is striking, and I wish that they’d occasionally stray towards the other extreme, too, and rock a little harder – perhaps their CSN needs a invigorating dose of Y?
Churlish criticisms, though. Fleet Foxes have crafted a pristine, hugely engaging sound right now, and the more they play, the more free and loose they’ll become, the more they’ll be able to stretch out and become really transcendent, whatever that means. Exactly how they grow, in the next few months, should be a compelling spectacle.