Album: Fleet Foxes, Sun Giant (Bella Union)

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The Independent Culture

Seattle quintet Fleet Foxes were the surprise hit of this year's SXSW Festival – and no wonder, if this sublime debut is anything to go by.

Though intended merely as a tour souvenir, and disdained by the band as unrepresentative of their ambitions, this five-track EP has the kind of otherworldly grace that has in recent years brought mainstream acclaim to such fringe artists as Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips, Iron & Wine and Arcade Fire. Harnessing gorgeous harmonies to folk-rock arrangements with the sort of enigmatic melodies favoured by The Shins, they're courageous enough to open with an a cappella title-track, capped with a delicate mandolin coda that doesn't disturb the song's fragile meniscus. Elsewhere, there are elegant Pentanglish folkisms, awed apprehensions of wonder at real life, and echoes of West Coast baroque-pop harmonists like The Association and America; but at their best, as on "Innocent Son", there's a tainted piety to Fleet Foxes' music that seems to straddle the secular and the sacred rather like a white, folkie equivalent of soul music. A mouth-watering taster for a full-length album later this year.

Pick of the Album: 'Innocent Son', 'Sun Giant', 'Mykonos', 'English House', 'Drops In The River'