It’s the first Thursday night in October. Hundreds of young adults ignore the imminent vice presidential debate and flock to the Starlight Ballroom in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia. The target? Fleet Foxes, one of the fastest rising indie bands of 2008.
Frontman Robin Pecknold and bandmates take the stage at the cosmopolitan-dance-club turned ’70s-folk-venue to the applause of an expectant crowd. Responding to their presence, the bearded Pecknold eagerly nods his head while refusing to make direct eye contact with the crowd. His mannerisms convey a certain self-consciousness that gives way to unadulterated humility.
“This place is big,” he says, reinforcing Fleet Foxes’ image as five small-town, simple-life musicians carrying on their sacred work far from home. After thanking the audience for making the excursion, the band opens with “Sun Giant,” a reverb-drenched, a capella choral arrangement that immediately places the listener inside of a 16th century European cathedral.
The song is characteristic of their sound. It is transformative in both place and time, restoring an innocence lost long ago, like a wide-eyed child who witnesses the colors of autumn for the first time. The layered vocal harmonies seem to lay to rest all forms of dischord, leaving the listener with an over-abounding sense of peace, a kind unknown to the modern majority.
In reflecting on his own childhood, Pecknold affirms this transformative power as being central to the band’s musical theme. “Sometimes when driving, or riding the bus, or walking around in some park, I will try to get an image in my head of what the land around me would have looked like 400 years ago. The same hills, the same landscape, but in my mind I’ll cover it in nothing and wonder what it was like to be the first man to chance upon it.”
So it is in this spirit of wonder that I find myself being led by the hand into my pre-angst, pre-all-is-not-right-in-the-world mentality; a time when the world was set before my eyes as a place to be discovered. The cosmopolitan, existentialist, apprehension-filled environment of the Starlight Ballroom is exchanged, if only for a minute, with visions of a humbling Eden. I recall the fickle intricacies of the house where I used to live; its proximity to the town fire station, and how as a toddler I glued myself to the window every time I heard the sirens in hopes of catching a glimpse of all the action. There are only a few things in this world capable of recalling these childhood memories in such vivid detail, namely, the nostalgic smell of fall air and the quieting power of song.
In this way, the music of Fleet Foxes offers redemption from the very “grown up” realities of tension in our pluralistic society. But instead of offering prescriptions for the future, Pecknold and friends turn instead to the power of memory, invoked most vividly through the humble beauty of their music.
As for me, at the risk of dwelling on the past, I’ll open the windows at night, turn on “Claire de Lune,” and recall a time when my eyes were pure and I smiled without reservation.
“At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.'” Matthew 11:25
“Sun Giant” [EP] and “Fleet Foxes” (self-titled LP) are both released through Sub-Pop Records and are available through iTunes as well as your local music store.