In 2008 the Fleet Foxes self-released their self-titled debut, garnering high praise and giving us a quiet introduction to a band that had not yet hit their apex. Three years later, when they released Helplessness Blues, it was nothing short of an emergence. It was a statement work of art that tapped into Millennial anxiety and ennui in such a deeply authentic way, it was impossible not to feel moved by it. And with last year’s complex follow-up Crack-Up finding them continuing to explore what they can do with their sound, we were presented with a confident version of them, unafraid to take chances. As they keep evolving, it feels like as fascinating a time as ever to reflect back on their early music. First Collection 2006-2009 includes Fleet Foxes’ first record, B-sides, and rarities, and their lesser known EP Sun Giant, and paints a vivid picture of a band finding its voice.
In basement demos of early songs off Fleet Foxes like “He Doesn’t Know Why” and “Ragged Wood,” we hear them figuring out their sound. Like their later finished products, there is a clear interest in creating intricate soundscapes, particularly with front man Robin Pecknold’s rich howl. Still, we don’t get much of that playfulness until Helplessness Blues. While it’s a stunning record, Fleet Foxes is very much a folk-rock record. There are guitars and drums and true melodic choruses. It doesn’t have the abstraction or quirkiness they found later on. It’s more straightforwardly beautiful with less curiosity and rawness.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing offerings on First Collection is the contrast between the demo of “Ragged Wood” and the album version. It starts as something stark and enchanting, like a B-side of Blues. It morphs into a catchy pop folk song. Elsewhere, we get a taste of a more punk rock side of the band with “She Got Dressed,” one of their earliest tunes from their very first EP. It sounds nothing like the band we know today, and may make you long for more like it.
First Collection is a well-curated documentary of a band that has come into their own. It gives a glimpse behind the somewhat mysterious curtain, exposing the Fleet Foxes’ growth and self-discovery across 30 tracks. This is a package to dig your teeth into, and whichever bite you get, it will probably taste delicious.