Last week around this time I was lamenting my failed attempt at getting into Radiohead that ended, shockingly, in my getting into Thom Yorke solo instead. This week, as though teasing discoveries were becoming a theme right here, I came across Fleet Foxes’ ‘He Doesn’t Know Why’ from their eponymous 2008 debut and have the same sinking feeling I often got when pondering my Radiohead Void, only about ten times worse. I always knew Radiohead were out there. My ignorance was a product of my own neglect. That I could deal with. But now, stumbling across my new favourite song, set unassumingly among the thickets of hip-hop and down-tempo electronica that fills my music library to overflowing, biding its time like a good folk rock track should, I can’t help but feel shattered. Since 2008 (and before! ‘Sun Giant’ EP to be obtained too!) Fleet Foxes have been scampering about, doing their brilliant Dylan-esque take on contemporary folk with so much guts and all the accompanying glory, and here have I been, distracted and blind to the fact.
Discovering a song so disconnected from context and social influence, from cultural location and the presumptuous expectation that comes with it, is truly the most encouraging way to find out about new music. It just never happens. With a glittering array of ‘genius’ recommenders and the intense networks of contemporary artists, it seems a rare thing to actually find and fall in love with something that has no connection to what you like, who you like or where you like. With regular infusions of music from apparently well-informed friends, I usually listen to recommendations in such a mindset – something along the lines of ‘this girl likes this, she has good taste in music, will give it a whirl’. But when a massive haul of new music comes in, I just as readily lose track of it and return to listening to the familiar. So it was with Fleet Foxes. I’m sure I’ve had ‘He Doesn’t Know Why’ since ‘Fleet Foxes’ was released to rave (9.0 Pitchfork, competing for album of the year status only with the ‘Sun Giant’ EP) reviews back in 08. That I only found it a few days ago, nestled in the folds between the Flaming Lips and Flight Facilities, makes it even sweeter.
From the opening warm, echoing harmonies and the first words of superb storyteller and frontman Robin Pecknold’s melodic vocals, I knew I was hooked. It didn’t matter that I only had a vague notion that Fleet Foxes were a band I should know about, having read their name in reputable publications too many times to shake it, as the harmonies were joined by tambourines, crash cymbals and toms and the whole piece seemed to move towards some unimaginable crescendo. Pecknold’s oscillating tone was not even the half of it. Clinging to every phrase of description, marveling at the portrait of a returning vagabond and desperate to see the whole picture revealed, I was flawed when suddenly, all that instrumentation fell away and all that was left was the full-throated admission, ‘There’s nothing I can do’. Before despair can set in, though, well-timed cadences save the track and we’re left, instead, with those whimsical harmonies carrying us off to an uncertain end. Bookended by a distinctly oriental epilogue, it’s all rather unsatisfying and yet, the promise of returning to decode, to uncover and peer beneath the track’s myriad layers remains. That prospect of the unknown is what continues to make ‘He Doesn’t Know Why’ and Fleet Foxes, four years and two albums old, so intriguing.
Fleet Foxes – He Doesn’t Know Why