Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

Darlings of this year's SXSW festival and lauded by Mojo as 'America's next great band', this Seattle five-piece describe their music as 'baroque harmonic pop jams'. All the above seems accurate except that it's hard to imagine pop music as perfectly formed as this emerging from a jam session. Lead singer and songwriter Robin Pecknold creates melodies that are – like all great pop – simultaneously familiar and unique, sounding like they've just fallen from the sky, and utterly unashamed of beauty. How can this be a new band? They sound like they've been playing this music forever and they're fantastic. And no, they owe nothing to their hometown's grunge
legacy.

Even though American church music, Brian Wilson and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are obvious local influences, Fleet Foxes' music is also shot through with a distinctly Anglophile melancholia. The spooky, ruminative Tiger Mountain Peasant Song most obviously echoes Fairport Convention's Fothergay, as well as the traditional ballad Scarborough Fair. The production sometimes hints at a 'Spectoresque' wall-of-sound, with almost orchestral arrangements in places, but the sound is never pompous or over-filled, and there are several more pastoral, stripped-down guitar-and-voice interludes such as Meadowlarks and the plaintive closer Oliver James.

Pecknold's colleagues often cloak his extraordinary soaring tenor (Tim Buckley springs to mind) in gorgeous vocal harmonies, as on the chugging, country-flavoured Ragged Wood and the jangly Quiet Houses. Pecknold would sound great singing any lyrics but his combine dream-like nature imagery with an archaically poetic turn of phrase, refreshingly free of predictable, corny rhyme schemes. White Winter Hymnal is an especially evocative example: ''was following the pack/All swallowed in their coats/With scarves of red tied 'round their throats/To keep their little heads/From fallin' in the snow…''

You may not spot the more exotic instruments they use (including Chinese Guzheng and autoharp) but it's the simplest that makes the most effective impression – a tambourine that flickers away through about half the tracks, like a cypher for Fleet Foxes' lovely, folky, optimistic music, which conjures up an imaginary lost sound world. This is a strong contender for album of the year.

The most special thing about the vinyl release is teh fact that the second disc is a previously released EP with an extra 5 songs. Vinyl pressing is quite decent although the music itself sounds digital and perhaps less organic than it should. Although a gatefold sleeve the inner sleeves are cheap paper and flimsy. There's an extra insert of musings and they do seem an interesting band!!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/release/cbrg/

Hans Ruckers – the musical legacy – jos van immerseel

Availability:

Northwest Classics is based in the Netherlands . At present, they have very limited international distribution and availability. Titles can be ordered directly from their website. The service is quick and professional.

Music/Performance:

Who? If you haven't heard the name Hans Ruckers, you're not alone. Ruckers was not a composer, and none of this music was written by him. He was the Antonio Stradivari of the harpsichord, a master builder whose career in Antwerp began around 1570. The recording is arranged in three sections, each showcasing an instrument built in the Ruckers tradition: a reconstructed 1644 (Andreas) Ruckers harpsichord, a 1747 Dulcken harpsichord, and a 1650 Couchet virginal known to be a faithful copy of an original 1570 Ruckers instrument (a virginal is similar to a harpsichord, but smaller, with its strings oriented sideways). It is probably not going too far to say that the instruments are the stars of this show, and the booklet contains many close-up, schematic, and "portrait" photographs of them. Jos van Immerseel plays them with, in his own words, "a feeling of deep respect and admiration." All this said, the music provides a wonderful opportunity to exhibit the qualities of these instruments. Aside from a Fantasy and Fugue by J. S. Bach, the music here is by relatively obscure composers, some anonymous. Each of the three mini-recitals is well formed and very satisfying on its own terms. Immerseel plays with great care, which comes across as being absorbed in the music rather than reserved or pedantic about it. Highlights include a set of variations on the famous "Folia" melody, and a very moving piece, the longest on the disc, by Armand-Louis Couperin (cuisin of the well known Francois "Le Grand").

Sonics:

If you love the sound of a harpsichord or, especially, if you (think you) hate it, you owe it to yourself to hear this SACD. It is, hands down, the best recording of any of these instruments, and for that matter one of the best recordings of anything at all, I have ever heard. Northwest has taken meticulous care to present a sound that is close and very revealing without being aggressive. There is none of the brittleness or edginess many would associate with harpsichord; the sound is warm, natural and complex. Nor is one left with an impression of rickety or antiquated instruments; the mechanical sounds one hears testify to their intricate workmanship. Each instrument emerges in sound with the kind of individual character revealed in the photographs depicting their exquisite painted and carved ornamentation, or the strip of antique parchment Couchet used to strengthen his soundboard. We hear the range of sounds the two harpsichords can produce, including a wonderful buff-stop on the Ruckers (small leather pads press against each string, giving the instrument a sound like that of a lute). The virginal has an extraordinary sound, strikingly different from either of the harpsichords, which almost calls to mind adjectives like "psychedelic." This SACD is a thrilling and fascinating document, achieving a rare intimacy and transparency.

A wonderful and diverse recital, expertly played. Highly recommended to fans of, or those curious about, Early Music; wildly recommended to audiophiles.

© Lyle Crawford