Wilco and Fleet Foxes do Dylan

Via Pitchfork, here’s a video of the Fleet Foxes joining Wilco on stage to cover Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” At one point, Tweedy breaks out his inimitable falsetto (and this time, at least, to great effect), and Fleet Foxes provide gorgeous harmonies on the choruses throughout the performance. Everyone on stage appears to be enjoying themselves a great deal.

Incidentally, I’ve been meaning to write about Fleet Foxes here for quite some time—their self-titled debut has demanded more of my listening attention this year than any other album. During the weeks of packing up our Chicago apartment and moving and unpacking here in St. Paul, Fleet Foxes was the record that my wife and I would put on to listen to in the background nine times out of ten. By now we’ve both heard it dozens and dozens of times, but neither of us have grown tired of it in the least: from the very first time I put it on, Fleet Foxes felt a part of me, as if it were not a new record from a young band, but instead some well-worn classic that I’d been listening to my whole life.

No doubt that feeling of deep familiarity is in part due to Fleet Foxes’ sound—they’re awash in rock of the late 60s and early 70s, and it’s in no way difficult to pick out the influence of CSN&Y, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and so on. That said, their arrangements are far from purely derivative. Instead, the typical Fleet Foxes song takes a rootsy folk-rock core and infuses it with a very modern-sounding spaciness; a warm, comfortable acoustic strum might quickly transform into an adventursome electric passage that takes its cues from Tortoise as much as from the Band.

Fleet Foxes also go a long way on the sheer beauty of singer Robin Pecknold’s voice—though his bandmates often do provide him with rich and complex harmonies, he also sounds breathtakingly lovely all by himself (and most notably on the soaring and gorgeous album closer “Oliver James”). The opening harmonies of standout track “White Winter Hymnal” sound decidedly old-timey, but then they open up into an arrangement that sounds simultaneously fireside-cozy and cavernously grand, and seems to be taking its cues from field recordings, the Beach Boys, Echo & the Bunnymen, and CNS&Y all at once. Many of Pecknold’s songs are similarly remarkable: he seems to be striving to achieve a kind of timelessness in both his lyrics and song structures, and in the process, he reaches back not only to the band’s obvious stylistic touchstones, but also to the older forms and themes at rock’s roots. Pecknold’s tune regularly evoke mountains, woods, streams, young love, spring and the Devil, but none of it comes off as affectation. Instead, Pecknold plumbs the depths of folk forms in order to bring out sounds and ideas that resonate as well today as they might have a couple hundred years ago.

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