Robin Pecknold and the gang finally return with an ambitious new album of meandering alt-folk that’s well worth the wait
The return of Fleet Foxes is something to be excited about. Having seemingly disappeared from view at the point that the genre they helped revitalise reached critical mass, it’s a different landscape that now greets them. Thankfully, tastemakers’ shift away from homespun alt-folk hasn’t knocked them off their stride; if anything Crack-Up is the purest crystallisation of their vision to date.
Inspired by an F. Scott Fitzgerald essay of the same, the band’s leader Robin Pecknold has said that the album shares the work’s theme of “I can’t go on / I must go on”. That’s not to say this soul-searching obfuscates his magical way with a melody, it just lends the songwriting a sense of uncertainty.
From the fittingly cracked beginnings of opening suite I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar it’s as if Phil Elverum has slipped a lasso over Crosby, Stills & Nash and dragged them to the very edge of their harmonic sphere. Those searching for clues into Pecknold’s current state of mind will find them scattered throughout, in particular on Third Of May/Odaigahara, as he sings, “You’re suddenly free but it’s all the same” and asks, “Can I be light and free?”
Crack-up is more of a team effort than either Fleet Foxes or Helplessness Blues with Pecknold sharing the workload and allowing his bandmates to fill in the spaces. His talented musical allies are more than up to the task, Morgan Henderson’s double bass on Mearcstapa is just but one exceptional example.
This is an album rich with content both immediate and cryptic, luscious harmonies careening in and out of focus and digressions both musical and lyrical. Layers drop off it as the songs reveal more of themselves with each listen. No matter what the rest of the music world is doing in 2017, Fleet Foxes still have a place at the top table.
Verdict: Further proof of Pecknold’s genius