Fleet Foxes' coup signals folk revival

• Genre's acts and albums make 2008 breakthrough
• Success pinned on simplicity of instruments

Listen to Fleet Foxes in the Music Weekly podcast

It has been said that 2008 belongs to hard rock. After AC/DC's chart coup in October, the long-awaited comeback album from Guns n' Roses, Chinese Democracy, will be released later this month, while Journey's 1981 hit Don't Stop Believing became the highest-selling catalogue song on iTunes. But there has been another musical force quietly gathering pace: folk music.

The inaugural Uncut Music Award has gone to Seattle's Fleet Foxes for a debut album which the editor of Uncut magazine, Allan Jones, describes as a "unanimous choice" among the judges.

He told the Guardian: "There was a general consensus that there was no other album like Fleet Foxes this year. It showed impeccable musicianship, and though you could trace its antecedents, it sounded totally unique. Fleet Foxes was just a glorious debut."

The band - virtually unheard of in the US, but selling close to 200,000 albums in Europe - beat the likes of Radiohead and Elbow to win the prize, prompting its frontman Robin Pecknold to say: "It's awesome. It's crazy, I never expected to be in contention for this kind of thing."

Also on the shortlist was For Emma, Forever Ago, the debut album from Bon Iver. Both bands have gone from being unheard-of acts at the start of 2008 to performing sold-out UK shows.

Laura Marling, an 18-year-old British newcomer, earned a Mercury Music Prize nomination for her debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim, a collection of songs which belie her youth.

Noah and the Whale's blend of folk made the UK top 10 with the single Five Years' Time and the album from which it is taken, Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down, is expected to go gold by Christmas.

So why has 2008 yielded so many lauded and successful folk albums? Pat Long, curator of the monthly In the Pines folk night in London, says that the simplicity of folk appeals to people because "you don't need to know how to use Pro Tools or some other computer program to make it, you just need a guitar or ukulele".

The phenomenon may be down to the cyclical nature of music. Last year, the winners of the Mercury Music Prize, the Klaxons, brought the dance sub-genre new-rave to the public's attention, and the previous year belonged to realist pop and rock stars such as Lily Allen and the Arctic Monkeys.

In contrast, the music of the Fleet Foxes is reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and speaks of mountains and meadow larks. Perhaps during these uncertain economic times, a soothing balm is what the British public needs.

Top tracks

New Romantic by Laura Marling, from Alas I Cannot Swim. An alarmingly mature approach to the false nature of young love.

Skinny Love by Bon Iver, from For Emma, Forever Ago. Iver's bitterness over the end of a relationship becomes a moving paean to lost love.

Five Years Time by Noah and the Whale, from Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down: A top 10 hit which ponders where we'll be in, yes, five years time.


Rosie Swash

The GuardianTramp

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