Reviews: Guillemots and Fleet Foxes
Guillemots – Walk the River
The multi-national, multi-instrumentalist, multi-talented Guillemots have a lot to live up to. Their 2006 debut Through the Windowpane was a seminal masterpiece that proudly boasts my favourite song ever (São Paulo). The followup EP Of the Night and subsequent album Red showcased the whole band’s songwriting and experimentation with every popular music style under the sun, alienating most of their fanbase in the process but creating a smorgasbord record with great repeat-listen value for those of us who chose to stick with it. Lead singer Fyfe’s solo album made him a brief bigtime personality when his Billy Joel cover was used on a John Lewis advert that made the nation cry.
The new offering, Walk the River, takes the multi-genre hotchpotch of Red and applies a more consistent formula of darkness and sadness marked by Fyfe’s powerful and dark lyrics. The album speeds up and slows down, swells and mellows, makes you move your feet and makes you drift into meditation, but nevertheless throughout it feels like they’re all components of one longer consistent work, which is what you want from an album. Experienced critics would use terms like “mature sound” here.
As usual, the real talent in Guillemots’ music is the instrumentation, and this album might be the best yet. Just try to pick out how many instruments are used in seemingly-simple-at-first opener Walk the River, or listen to the slowly building sound of nine-minute epic Sometimes I Remember Wrong to see what I mean.
This album is not going to be a hit, and is unlikely to be remembered as a modern classic like their debut, but it’s a powerful, consistent and experimental work and it’s been on my playlist solidly since its release.
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Seattle’s Fleet Foxes have been an unexpected huge success in the UK ever since they first appeared on the scene in 2008. Their brand of 60s-style folk rock with a modern twist was an instant hit with young and old music fans alike.
On first listen, Helplessness Blues sounds like more of the same, and certainly the fans lapped it up — it went straight to #2 in the charts. More of the same would have been fun but ultimately kind of boring, like a bonus disc to the first album.1
But this album is different. OK, there are classic Foxes sounds like beautiful lead single Helplessness Blues, but then we see things like the Eastern-inspired high-speed guitaring at the end of Sim Sala Bim and what can only be described as folk rock opera in the form of eight-minute The Shrine/An Argument, easily the standout track on the album after a few listens. Hell, they even drop the medieval vocal harmonies on a track or two!
This second offering from our beloved Foxes is the sound of a band that knows it’s already found its niche, but is successfully spreading its wings within that space looking for the perfect sound. I can’t wait for number three!
- Yes, I know, we had one of those already and it was awesome. [↩]