Rating: 4 stars
Seattle indie folk band Fleet Foxes, now the putative brainchild of singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold, have returned with Shore, an album of liberation, gratitude and an appreciation for the simpler things in life. In such a time of turmoil, this is an outlook which may appear at odds. But for those in need of an escape, these 54 minutes provide just that.
Having emerged as one of indie rock’s most prominent bands to arise from the early 2000s, Fleet Foxes burst forth with their self-titled debut album in 2008, subsequently solidifying their reputation with the Grammy-winning Helplessness Blues in 2011. A self-imposed hiatus that followed allowed Pecknold to enrol at Columbia University, and collate a set of ideas which came to fruition on 2017’s sprawling and experimental Crack-Up.
This is a record which will satisfy the longer-term Fleet Foxes fans whilst still demonstrating a certain nuanced step up, as the band yet again demonstrates just how far superior they are to the zeitgeist of vapid American folk rock that took shape in the early 2010s.
From the get-go, the listener is ushered into an expansive, shimmering and perhaps just slightly more pop-y aesthetic. Sonically, the album seems to see Pecknold at his most ambitious and creatively unfettered, particularly considering the relatively unexpected nature of its release – 9:31 a.m. on September 22nd, to coincide with the autumnal equinox.
The opening track, ‘Wading in Waste-High Water,’ offers a delicate but gorgeous introduction, painting a melancholic scene of pastoral transition. “Summer all over / blame it on timing / weakening August water.” The vocals of Uwade Akhere, who Pecknold discovered through her cover of ‘Mykonos’ on social media, present the most tenderly beautiful snippet on the entire record.
The track soon explodes into life, as rich harmonies and percussion enter for the chorus: “And we’re finally aligning / Maybe more than I can choose.” These swathing bursts of sound characterise the album in its entirety, and recall songs such as the title track of Helplessness Blues. Specifically that defining “If I had an orchard / I’d work ‘til I’m raw” moment, which truly cemented their reputation.
A similar climax occurs at the closure of ‘Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman,’ which confirms the influence of Brian Wilson across the album. A soundbite of him features at the song’s beginning, as well as the pristine use of counterpoint on the track ‘For A Week Or Two.’
The album demonstrates a certain Romanticism in its lyrics, as Pecknold turns to the seclusion of nature as an escape. It comes accompanied with a short film depicting shots of rural landscape in the American Northwest, adding a visual dimension to the album’s already equanimous prettiness. Rushing water, crashing waves and chirping birds frame transitions between songs and give Fleet Foxes more of a surf-pop sound than ever before. The track ‘Sunblind’ reflects this: “I’m gonna swim for a weekend / warm American water with dear friends,” as Pecknold pays homage to inspirations past, which range from Ian Curtis to Elliot Smith.
Shore sees Fleet Foxes retreat from its experimental predecessor to a more familiar style. However, this is by no means a regression. Back in their space of comfort, Pecknold and Co. are able to refine and reinvigorate their sound to create a record which easily stands alongside some of their best work.
Image: Robin Pecknold via Flickr