"White Winter Hymnal" by Fleet Foxes
Delicately finger-picked acoustic guitars, four-part choral harmonies, more references to nature than an hour of Animal Planet—yep, this dusty road is well traveled, but Fleet Foxes stand out among indie rock's current flower-people revival by adding a subtle undercurrent of melancholy. Like the Altamont Hell's Angels waiting just over the horizon to put the kibosh on the '60s, sadness haunts singer Robin Pecknold, who slips dark imagery ("You would fall and turn the white snow red as strawberries in the summertime") into the lilting round-robin of "White Winter Hymnal," worries aloud that he's "turning myself to a demon" in the lament of "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song," and wraps things up with a Faulknerian eulogy for a lost child on "Oliver James." As if they were flying over mountains, most listeners will be too enchanted by the big picture to notice the small life-or-death struggles on the ground; they're likely to stay swept up in the amber-hued melodies, guitar lines snaking upward like flames from a campfire, and cumulus clouds of strings, bells, and rolling tom-toms. The wilderness goes from breathtaking to sort of boring after a while, but the overall effect is as refreshing as country air.