Fleet Foxes

Crack-Up

Nonesuch

Jun 14, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


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When Fleet Foxes first appeared on the music scene, it was like they'd walked out of their own time and space and arrived in 2008 fully formed. While indie rock was busily exploring the extent of shoegaze and reverb-soaked post-punk (Beach House and Crystal Stilts made plenty of year-end lists), along came this band of bearded weirdos who sounded like they'd been raised on Van Dyke Parks, the deepest cuts of '70s folk-rock, a hefty helping of Bob Dylan (the acoustic version) and CSNY. They didn't sound like much else that was popular, but co-signed by Sub Pop, they became an indie juggernaut.

By the time their follow-up, Helplessness Blues, came along in 2011, they were no longer oddities in the music scenefacial hair and suspenders had suddenly exploded into the limelight, thanks to the mediocre yelps of bands like Mumford & Sons. And Of Monsters & Men and The Lumineers, similarly '70s folk-inflected bands, were just about to take the charts by storm. That overexposure made the uniqueness of Fleet Foxes go dim and it became sort of... lame.

Perhaps that's why the band waited six years to release their third full-length, Crack-Up. The real reason might be frontman Robin Pecknold's stint as a student at Columbia University, but it sure doesn't hurt that enough time has passed that Fleet Foxes suddenly sound wholly their own again.

And make no mistakethis is a Fleet Foxes album. You likely know exactly what the album will sound like based on that sentence, and if you will like it. There are slightly different textures here (many more songs with abrupt shifts in sound, more synthesized sounds), but the band still sounds like they spend hours finding the perfect dulcimer arrangements while listening to some lost album where Brian Wilson wrote for Nick Drake and Art Garfunkel sang.

Please note: None of these qualities is an insult. Crack-Up is shaping up to be one of the best albums of the year, and it's precisely because of that care and that craft. That the album sounds like no one else is a high complimentno one else comes close to touching Fleet Foxes in this type of music, and the moments the band creates on Crack-Up are some of the finest you'll find on any record this year.

The album kicks off with its major differentiators: "I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar" features Fleet Foxes maximalism with quieter sections that recall Simon & Garfunkel's quieter, Garfunkel-led moments, while "Cassius," features a propulsive synth swell that segues into a big piano-driven coda. Both songs are excellent, and a logical extension of the band's sound. It's not until " Naiads, Cassadies" that Crack-Up really sounds like the Fleet Foxes of old, and, as you'd expect, it's absolutely beautiful.

Beauty is a common theme on the album. Even as Pecknold's sometimes-inscrutable lyricsnever has anyone loved so much mythological metaphors for growing up and wrestling with adulthoodgrow a little darker (there's a lot about a change of scenery being, essentially, meaningless), the beautiful melodies he and his compatriots create are as stirring as ever. "If You Need To, Keep Time on Me" is a straightforward piano ballad, stunning in its simplicity, while the title track and "Fool's Errand" showcase the vocals as well as any of the band's previous work. And "Kept Woman" and "I Should See Memphis" double down on the band's commitment to '70s AM radiothis is timeless music that would comfortably fit in the annals of rock's last 50 years.

Crack-Up may not be a great leap forward, but does anyone need that from Fleet Foxes? I suspect the answer is "no"Fleet Foxes matter because they make music that is distinctly their own, and this latest effort is another example of that ability. Its beauty and craft are on display throughout, providing a glimpse of music that is a joy to hear. (www.fleetfoxes.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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