Fleet Foxes

Nonesuch, 2017

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Melancholy, mournful, and lush, Fleet Foxes’ third album is probably best described as progressive folk and is yet another bold step forward.

The band’s second album Helplessness Blues came out in 2011 and expanded on the sonic palette and instrumentation of the debut, showing a band not content to repeat the same coffeeshop indie folk pap that has been the norm for a decade now. The quintet then took six years off, making a third album quite anticipated, and for those who have been waiting, Crack-Up likely won’t disappoint.

At its core, this is still echo-heavy chamber acoustic folk music, but any pretensions to pop have been dropped in favor of longer multi-part songs that meander instead of punch. Like Robert Plant’s Lullaby And The Ceaseless Roar or – reaching farther back – Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, this album is a mood piece that is designed to get immersed in, flowing like a cold river through the mind. It’s highly unlikely any of these songs will get airplay at the coffeehouse, as the more uptempo pieces tend to be buried in the middle of the moodier passages. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Much of the album drifts along, anchored by Robin Pecknold’s murmuring (at a lower octave than fans may remember) and the occasional guitar or piano accompaniment; those moments when he breaks to sing in his normal voice and the acoustic guitars pound in are when the album hits its stride. The nine-minute first single (!) “Third Of May / ÅŒdaigahara” and the middle section of opening track “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar” are the best examples of both this and of what Pecknold is trying to do here.

To be sure, the funereal pace and feel of much of this will be a turnoff to some, as will the lack of immediate melodies or riffs. This is music that is willfully difficult but sublimely melodic, an orange autumnal experience best suited to reflective moods and dour days. Much of the lyrical content – which is evidenced in the music as well – is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up series of essays, written toward the end of the author’s life during a dark-night-of-the-soul period. Pecknold, it should be noted, went to school at Columbia for literature during the six-year Fleet Foxes hiatus, but he indicated that most of this album was written before that time and simply laid dormant.

Unlike the last two albums, The Crack-Up is serious and meticulous; witness how the string section and the overlaid vocals on the lovely sigh of “I Should See Memphis,” which call to mind historical fights from ancient Egypt to Muhammad Ali to Martin Luther King Jr. But Pecknold isn’t really interested in directly addressing current events any more than he is adhering to what bearded hipsters think a folk-rock album should sound like. So you get references to Beowulf and Osiris and Goya and the Civil War and then to those immediate personal struggles that lead to cracks in the pavement, and whether you apply it to the Trump administration or to your own mental state of mind or the ramblings of a middle-class lit student at Columbia is entirely up to you. The conflicts are the same, as they have always been, as they will always be.

The Crack-Up isn’t for the faint of heart or those who want escapist music that goes down as smoothly as a latte. It’s dense and difficult, not nearly as fun as Fleet Foxes but more academic and artistic and easy to get lost in if you’re in the right mood.

Rating: B-

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