Fleet Foxes comprise five guys in their early 20s from Seattle who make music that's honest and beautiful at a time when such virtues are in short supply. Yeah, this is a tough spell for the working class, unlike anything most young adults have previously experienced. Government mendacity and corporate greed have all but crushed the latest generation's quest for the American Dream.
The same money-changers that send 18-year-olds to fight crooked wars overseas feed them inauthentic pop music that renders human voices cold and robotic — reinforcing the idea, if you're a thinking person, that nothing is trustworthy.
Fleet Foxes, on the other hand, offer the sonic equivalent of integrity. They make timeless music that lovingly harks back to such 1960s titans as Brian Wilson, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Paul Simon and John Lennon, all of whom, and more, are mentioned in the "deepest thanks" section of the liner notes. Yet rather than being some catch-all revival band, Fleet Foxes craft a strikingly original sound by employing oblique, sometimes chamber-esque melodies and the occasional odd-meter rhythm.
Robin Pecknold, whose singing evokes a cross between Neil Young and My Morning Jacket's Jim James, leads Fleet Foxes. The other members are also capable vocalists, and the quintet collectively delivers stacked harmonies worthy of a Beach Boys or vintage Phil Spector record. The lyrics are slightly obscured by the dreamy way in which Pecknold stretches syllables like taffy — but that's OK, or I should say I'm OK with not being able to distinguish each word.
In fact, in this case I prefer it. I enjoy the way the vocals wash over me like soothing memories of romanticized good old days or visions of better days waiting up around the bend. This is music of hope. Fleet Foxes' innocent, earnest "ooo's and aww's" are as moving and, yes, poetic, as the cleverest lyrics.
All the instrumentation is organic and majestically subtle. These young men do not possess superior chops, but you can hear them aspiring to a level of expert musicianship they may reach by, say, their third album. Another huge plus is that each track was expertly recorded to sound like it's emanating from a living room, where some of the album was actually cut. "Music is a weird and cosmic thing," reads the liner notes, "its own strange religion for nonbelievers." I'll gladly worship at Fleet Foxes' temple. 4 stars —Wade Tatangelo
DAVE DOUGLAS & KEYSTONE
In keeping with his status as one of jazz's contemporary renaissance men, trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas has found a way to simultaneously play expansive, challenging music while making it accessible to the less-than-practiced ear. The disc's elliptical yet distinct melodies unfold like those of Miles Davis' great '60s quintet, yet the presentation — featuring Fender Rhodes keyboard and atmospherics by DJ Olive — brings to mind Miles' more groove-oriented '70s (and even '80s) work. Which is not to say that Douglas is dependent on the Miles milieu — he and his five band mates definitely have their own thing going on. Recorded in front of a live audience in Ireland and later edited and augmented with additional tracking, Moonshine moves freely between finely drawn ensemble melodies, spacey collective improvisation and bold solo statements. Frontliners Douglas and Marcus Strickland (saxophone) deliver a number of bracing, extended forays, while Adam Benjamin's Rhodes playing ranges from fleet solos to grimy, overdriven background parts. The ensemble moves through the different sections, delves into myriad textures and calibrates dynamics with an extrasensory command. (greenleafmusic.com) 4 stars —Eric Snider
The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines
KING KHAN AND THE SHRINES
Immodesty be damned, there's something admittedly supreme about this greatest-hits collection of Stax-soaked psychedelic soul: It's hard to believe the 12-strong Montreal lineup, newly signed to Vice Records (home to partners-in-retro-crime The Black Lips), got together barely a decade ago. Credit the players, among them percussionist Ron Streeter (Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder), for the authenticity. Frontman Kahn sets things "in the midnight hour" on the riff-heavy opener "Torture," a classic slice of '60s rock 'n' roll, right down to the hissy, super-compressed sound reproduction. Thick horns, fuzzy garage guitars and greasy organs collide on "Sweet Tooth," a thumping, thunderous anthem, while "Destroyer" throws down some booty-shakin' old-school funk. Throughout, hilariously filthy, Zappa-esque lyrics keep things current (on "Took My Lady to Dinner," a howling Kahn doesn't care that his "fat, ugly" gal's "ass is the size of New York"). Exquisitely raw and hedonistic, this is revivalism at its best. 4 stars —Amanda Schurr