One Track Mind: Fleet Foxes, "The Shrine/An Argument" (2011)

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by Mark Saleski

Do things in music always have to go smoothly? Does it bother you when your expectations are upset? I’ve always enjoyed it when a song takes an unexpected left turn. Two great examples are John Zorn’s version of the “The James Bond Theme” (from Naked City) where, right in the middle of a fairly well-behaved and swingin’ version of the tune, mayhem takes over as the musicians play whatever they please for eight bars. Let me tell you, that precise drop right back into the pocket is freakishly exhilarating. Secondly, we have Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” from Kid A. The existence of horns on the track isn’t so shocking, but then they turn up the skronk and you can’t help but feel a little giddy at the otherworldliness of it all.

To this short list I have to add “The Shrine/An Argument” from the Fleet Foxes latest, Helplessness Blues. Here we have a gently unwinding story full of fingerpicked guitar, Tibetan singing bowls, and other acoustic elements. And then with about a minute to go … horns come in to blow everything up, hurling jagged chunks of lines in all directions. Then the violins arrive, swaying back and forth, adding to the surrealism of the moment. Trippy and delicious is what it is.

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