Tag Archives: Robin Pecknold

Top Ten Songs of 2011 – #7: “Battery Kinzie” by Fleet Foxes

23 Dec

Waiting for Helplessness Blues, the follow-up to Fleet Foxes’ eponymous first release in 2008, was like waiting for a New York Jets superbowl. It just never felt like it would come, despite how long I patiently waited. Robin Pecknold, lead singer, songwriter, and a whole bunch of other things, originally said the album would be released in 2009, but because of touring and other time constraints this was pushed back to 2010 and finally May of 2011. Honestly, I don’t even think that Pecknold and the band thought that there would be such demand for the second album. It probably caught them by surprise. They are pretty awesome though, so, they shouldn’t have expected less. Luckily, unlike a Jets Superbowl appearance in my lifetime, Helplessness Blues was released in May of 2011, an extremely successful body of 12 tracks that was received well by critics and fans alike.

The Foxes are Fleet!

After listening to the album once through I was also satisfied. It was seemingly a mirror image of the first release, but I had no problem with that. Fleet Foxes is a baroque folk band concentrating on mellifluous melodies, harmonious harmonies, and skilled acoustic instrumentation. Pecknold, whose father was in The Fathoms, a local Seattle 60s band, and guitarist Skyler Skjelset idolized artists like Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Brian Wilson, while they grew up and went to high school in a suburb of Seattle. When they began to make music and perform it, critics noticed that they were insanely talented in the songwriting and harmony categories. It was pretty clear from the start that they were going to make it. And, make it they did.

“Battery Kinzie” is not the favorite off the new album for most people. That would be the album’s title track “Helplessness Blues,” a passionate track that takes on a Mumford & Sons feel with rising crescendo (something that Mumford and Sons – Fleet Foxes British Folk counterpart – does in every one of their songs). It’s a wonderful piece and I do enjoy listening to it, but, it is not the best song on the album. That spot is reserved for “Battery Kinzie,” a song that tells the story of a man trying to get his love back and failing (the man appears as a motif in this semi-concept album and he does get back with the girl at the end of the album which is good if you like happy endings.)

So why is this song better? First off, I absolutely love that it hits you right away. Within the first 25 seconds of the song, the listener gets this pounding rhythm, an effortlessly strummed acoustic guitar, and Fleet Foxes’ trademark blend of sweet, sweet harmony. Pecknold belts out:

I woke up one morning
All my fingers rotting
I woke up a dying man, without a chance

The song rises like a man getting out of bed with a sharp sun puncturing and reflecting off the glass. But it does take a bit of a dark turn that strays away from the happy melody. This dark turn remains for the rest of depressing song. The instrumentation serves as a bit of a contradiction to the lyric. But, when looking into this some more, I actually feel that it’s apt. The music is constant and pretty static. It is wonderfully crafted, but it does not change much. There remains the pounding percussion, same three chords, and similar harmony. I think the song represents a moment in time so well because of this constancy. And that is at least lyrically what the song was supposed to convey.

My favorite portion is the chorus. The harmony is delightful. Do not wander through the dawn. The line is held out with delicate harmony. The song works so well and perhaps this is because it is a tight, short piece with no true opportunity for failure. I think, while it does seem like a bridge song, “Battery Kinzie” highlights the true strength of Fleet Foxes. Percussion, acoustics, and harmony.

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