Albums of 2008: Day 1 – Fleet Foxes – Ragged Wood

(Each day of December I’m going to try to highlight an album from this year that I’ve enjoyed. These won’t be in any particular order (we’ll get to a ranked list later), but merely daily sketches of new releases that found their way to my ears with pleasant results. Here goes…)

It took me a while to come around to this record, and I still have reservations. It’s like a dessert that’s a little too sweet. Frontman Robin Pecknold has a creamy croon that’s the antithesis of Tom Waits’ growl, and the harmonies of his bandmates are baked from the same ingredients. Throw in melodies that hint at the Shins, upbeat rhythms that bring Sufjan Stevens to mind and a healthy does of Northwest folk and you’ve got a logical “band of the moment.”

Ragged Wood also reminded me of a West Coast release that made my best-of list last year: Cass McCombsDropping The Writ. There’s a similar combination of yearning, introspective lyrics with simple but celestial instrumentation. And, though McCombs’ album emerged from sunny L.A., both albums have a rainy season vibe.

When it comes down to it, the comfort of Ragged Wood wins over my reservations. Music can serve many purposes. It can be challenging, inspirational, thought provoking, etc. But it can also just make you feel good. That’s what Fleet Foxes does for me. It’s that sugary pastry that you sometimes crave, and when you indulge, it hits you just right and you can stop worrying about the rest of the world for a few moments.

Watch the video for “White Winter Hymnal,” an appropriate tune for these increasingly wintery days.

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