Thursday, May 13, 2010

Album Review: Fleet Foxes - Sun Giant EP

Fleet Foxes: Sun Giant EP
[Bella Union, Sub Pop 2008]


Looking back on 2008, one of the year’s biggest stories in indie rock was the sudden rise of Seattle’s Fleet Foxes and the mainstream attention they have received for their self-described “baroque harmonic pop jams.” Receiving a vast amount of that attention through their critically acclaimed debut LP Fleet Foxes, it’s not a surprise that it seems to have largely overshadowed their preceding Sun Giant EP. Matching the band’s LP in style and, generally, in quality, this EP is basically a mini Fleet Foxes. In other words, new fans of the band would be richly rewarded by checking out Sun Giant EP.

The EP’s opener “Sun Giant” centers around the all-important vocal harmonies that give Fleet Foxes their distinctive sound. Robin Pecknold leads the band in a sparse but warm a capella before a delicate acoustic guitar quietly provides the outro. It is a softly soaring track whose simplistic optimism and pleasant imagery match the pristine beauty of the harmonies. Both “Sun Giant” and “Sun It Rises,” the first song on Fleet Foxes, work as excellent introductory songs to the band’s pride in clear vocals and rich harmonization, with the latter song featuring brief choir-like singing in an introductory piece (the “Red Squirrel” section). While perhaps not packing as much drama or progression as “Sun It Rises” or other songs on their LP, “Sun Giant” is a more rich-bodied epitome of Fleet Foxes’ love of sharp vocal work and is an interestingly unique song in their catalog.

Sun Giant EP continues with its best song “Drops in the River.” Creating a gentle buildup with more delicate guitar work and soft percussion heavy on the bass drum, the song reaches a victorious, soaring, and well-deserved chorus sung with energy and passion from Pecknold and Co. Short bursts of electric guitar and thundering drums courtesy of J. Tillman contribute to an instantly memorable tune that is certainly among the Fleet Foxes’ best songs.

“English House” borrows the choir-like aesthetic of “Sun Giant” and the more jam-oriented “Drops in the River” with vocals employed for a dreamlike atmosphere while pounding drums provide the song a strong backbone. Here, Pecknold more distinctively holds the lead singing position and does so with supreme confidence and grace. A similar style is used on “Mykonos,” including Pecknold leading the way with vocals and warm thundering drums. “Mykonos” turns down the dramatic movements of previous songs in its first half before a chilling pause and the return of a soaring climax. Once again, the band treads the line between hum-drum folk jams and melodramatic choruses perfectly; nothing feels contrived or ironic and there is an excellent balance of buildup and reward.

“Innocent Song” closes out Sun Giant very similarly to how “Oliver James” concludes Fleet Foxes. Again, it’s just Pecknold’s sleek and clear vocals and acoustic guitar strumming. While Pecknold performs with usual confidence, the song is bound to be overlooked in favor of the more instrumentally rich and vocally intense tracks of the EP and Fleet Foxes. Although a beautiful song, there is clearly less going on with its wondering progression than on other songs on Sun Giant EP, as “Innocent Son” is seems to be marked by a purposeful lack of dramatic rises in action accented by Pecknold’s beautifully meandering vocals.

In the sudden burst of popularity that Fleet Foxes have enjoyed from their debut album, fans would be keen to seek out this excellent EP. Most, if not all, of the songs on Sun Giant EP are strong enough to have merited a spot on Fleet Foxes and in fact, the songs would even be worth substituting out a few from the LP. But avoiding the excruciatingly difficult and wholly unnecessary effort of mixing and matching songs from Fleet Foxes’ two major releases, the point is, if you love Fleet Foxes, expect to thoroughly enjoy Sun Giant EP.

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