Why do we sing? Why do we force air out of our lungs, crafted by muscles along the way in to song? The prime evolutionary argument tells us that it’s something to do with getting it on – most people’s vocal range diminishes with age, as they pass their sexual peak. But equally important is the fact that from our earliest moments we use our vocal capacity to draw people to us, to aid us, to communicate.
And during the darkest moments, when we grieve, it seems natural to turn to song – the noise produced proving to us how alive we are.
That primal grieving defiant voice is, surprisingly, at the heart of this song by flavour-of-the-month band the Fleet Foxes. Surprising because their record is almost the antithesis of primal, based as it is on crafted melodies, thoughtful lyrics, and gentle sounds. And yet it’s perfectly in place on the album – which is as good as everybody is saying.
The song opens with light guitar, before stripping back to the essentials of Robin Pecknold’s sweet and strangely anachronistic voice. As he sings the first verse, a hand taps a rythm on the guitar body, the only concession to accompaniement. This voice is called to testify, and all – including his fellow musicians – remain silent in respect, until he builds to the crux of the song:
“Oliver James washed in the rain no longer”
What worlds and mysteries are held in this simple song and statement. Is it a song about death? A trembling elegy to a drowned friend? A song about birth? About purification? All that’s clear is that water and washing are involved – the rest is for you to make your mind up.
What will remain with you, though, is how right that voice sounds singing that line.