[In the past, I’ve written short blurbs for each of the year’s 100 Songs. Some of these “short blurbs” were actually thousands of words long, but you get the idea. This year, sadly, I didn’t have time to do that. But I still have a lot to say about almost all of these songs. So I’m just going to start writing. This is one of a still-undetermined number of essays. Maybe I’ll find something to say about all 100 Songs. Maybe there will just be a handful of these. I’ll try to write one every day, but I make no promises. Also, they will be in no real order. In case it gets buried, the original 100 Songs for 2011 post, with links, can be found here.]
It was quite a year for Fleet Foxes. ”Helplessness Blues” was Paste Magazine’s Song of the Year. Helplessness Blues, the album, wound up at #4 on Rolling Stone’s list. I would bet the band garnered more accolades in 2011 than we have room to list here.
More than that, though, 2011 was the year in which Fleet Foxes transcended being a mere band and became almost entirely an abstract concept.
If you want to make a larger point about society, positive or negative, Fleet Foxes are the rhetorical device for you.
In February, Tom Ewing wrote another brilliant Poptimist essay for Pitchfork entitled “I’m So Fucking Special.” Ewing dissects “the particular vibe of current self-empowerment pop,” perhaps best exemplified by Katy Perry’s “Firework.” The counterpoint, for Ewing, is Fleet Foxes:
On the new Fleet Foxes single, “Helplessness Blues”, Robin Pecknold applies his typically gentle harmonies to creating the anti-“Firework”. He sings about how he was raised to think he was a unique snowflake, and it’s not satisfying— he’d rather be a cog in a productive machine, which turns out to involve working in an orchard. This is a common criticism of self-actualization— if you tell everyone they are special, they end up disappointed and dissatisfied when they find out they’re not.
Where can we turn in our fight against narcissism? We can turn to Fleet Foxes.
In March, Rob Sheffield wrote an essay for Rolling Stone entitled “Why Rebecca Black is a Demon-Wizard Child Piper,” in which Sheffield attempts to decode “Friday” as, among other things, “a message from the future.” The first paragraph of that essay:
1. It’s only been a week since Rebecca Black became a YouTube sensation with “Friday,” but the song remains full of mysteries. Who is Rebecca Black? How did this song happen? Is it a joke? Why does she find it so hard to decide whether to kick in the front seat or sit in the back seat? Why is she afraid we’ll get the days of the week in the wrong order? Could music possibly get any dippier? None of these questions have answers yet. (Except the last one: Fleet Foxes.) But maybe we’re not asking the right questions yet. Clearly, this song demands a deeper investigation.
Do you think pre-fab teen pop is weird and robotic? Too bad! You either embrace it or you’re left with nothing but hippies singing about orchards.
Somewhere along the line, Fleet Foxes became the pastoral counterpoint to everything. It’s a strange turn of events for a band who’s actual music is so un-revolutionary. For the parts of our culture you love, for the parts of our culture you hate, one thing is certain … it’s either this or Fleet Foxes.