Fleet Foxes is a band that needs no introduction by now so how do I begin this piece? For many people of my generation (I’m 25 for context) started college, Robin Pecknold’s new-folk group was the introduction to mature music. The dreamy fusion of Rococo sentiments sung in perfect harmony over Americana instrumentation set the stage for any eighteen to twenty-something just beginning their adult lives when their first album dropped in 2008. After a couple more studio releases the band took a step back from the limelight to work on other projects. As fans will know, drummer Joshua Tillman left the band to work on his solo career, better known as Father John Misty and singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold moved to New York to pursue an undergraduate degree from Columbia University. It was unclear whether the band would reunite again during this hiatus until a year ago when Pecknold announced that he was writing with his old bandmates again minus Tillman. As exciting as this was, a lot of work was still ahead on the new album so fans had to wait, only getting teasers every now and then leading up to the new LP. On June 16th, Crack-Up finally dropped and there is so much to be said for it.
At first glance, Crack-Up is a different landscape that Pecknold and the rest of Fleet Foxes are aiming for. On prior releases, there was so much sonic color being presented to the listener, one couldn’t help but visualize mosaics of mountains, rivers and a simple, yet, happier life. While Crack-Up is still a happy album, there’s more dynamic to it. On the last LP, Helplessness Blues, one can find more flowing sections in the songs with open chords or drawn out vocal melodies cuddled-up in the mix warmly. However, Pecknold asks his audience to step in closer on the new album. More attention is required to appreciate the minor details on all eleven tracks. While the prior two albums may have been celebrations of life, Crack-Up is an observation of it.
The album opens with the melancholy track I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar. The title came as a surprise as most of Fleet Foxes’ past work vocalized the individual’s involvement with the rest of the world rather than maintaining a lone presence. It’s a stoic take on their old sound that captures listener’s interest. The old sound is ever-present, though; it’s not long before the fully arranged group blasts into one of their movements that sound like the trumpets of a pacifist cavalry.
Digital instrumentation and sampling is used throughout the album; this is best exemplified by the next couple songs. There’s a small computer hum-like drone underneath Cassius, – that works into the song eloquently without damaging the status quo of the band. A brief sample catches listeners by surprise on Third of May / Ōdaigahara. What the sample is, I’m unsure but it most likely will be reviled in the coming weeks as the album gains more traction.
The down-played Kept Woman is a key track on Crack-Up. A ballad of a longing, the song tells the story of a loved one hard to keep up with. “Can you be slow for a little while?
Widow your soul for another mile?” Pecknold sings over the minimalist guitar and far off keyboard. These lyrics go down as some of the best delivered on the album, although it’s hard to choose favorites among Pecknold’s work.
Other tracks to take notice to come simultaneously in the middle. In Mearcstapa, the digitalization of Fleet Foxes sound is lightly honed in again to add a nice base layer to an already beautifully mixed song. On Another Ocean (January / June) uses a simple rhyming scheme over a standard 4/4 rhythm the band isn’t known for using in a way that allows them to acknowledge their 60’s rock roots
In an effort to stand apart from other albums, Crack-Up closes with its title track rather than opens with it; not an original concept but also not an overused one. The song has the instrumentation of an old Fleet Foxes song with the sentiment of their new direction, a clever way to close a post-hiatus album. Like other songs on the album, Crack-Up feels like multiple songs placed together as one, possibly the source for the title.
So the hiatus was undoubtedly needed for Fleet Foxes. After experiencing a quick rise to prominence, Pecknold and his bandmates needed the time to mature as musicians and as people so that the third release could be what it needed to be; a stripped-down reinventing of its wheel. Sadly, most albums don’t live up to their over-hyping so it’s nice to hear that Crack-Up did; at least for this writer it did.
Click here to listen to Kept Woman.
– By Mike Metcalf