The Fleet Foxes, an indie-folk band led by singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold, released their new album "Shore" on Sept. 22. The group gained recognition in the music scene when they released the EP "Sun Giant" back in 2006. Since then, Pecknold and company have released four studio albums including their most recent project.
Like all previous Fleet Foxes albums, "Shore" is the brainchild of Pecknold, as he wrote and produced all of the tracks. It was released more than three years after their previous album, "Crack-Up." The contrast between these two albums is like day and night, with "Crack-up" being the more esoteric and experimental of the two. "Shore", on the other hand, takes a straightforward approach, utilizing catchy lead melodies and more typical song structure. There is greater emphasis on drum and bass in this album, with the groove being the focal point of many songs.
Die hard fans should not be worried, however. The usual suspects that make up Fleet Foxes' distinct sound are still here: warm performance hall reverb, earthly acoustic guitars and Pecknold's rustic, soaring vocals. Once again, the group pushes their sound into a new direction with successful results.
The album starts with the serene "Wading in Waist-High Water." Lead vocals are provided by guest singer Uwade Akhere instead of Pecknold, which is unusual for any Fleet Foxes project. In a sense, it makes the song feel like the album's prologue. Akhere's gentle vocals lend to the mellow yet beautiful start of the song, which eventually crescendos into a spiritual high with crashing drums and blaring horns providing a sense of open space. The lyrics talk about giving in to something greater than yourself, whether that be a relationship or a passion.
"Sunblind" is the second track of the album, and it is the first sung by Pecknold. The song is a rousing tribute to Pecknold's musical heroes, from Elliot Smith to Otis Redding and many more. He "feels sunblind" while looking up at his influences and hopes to honor their legacy through his music.
The next song "Can I Believe You" is the catchiest so far, with its passionately sung chorus line. Despite this appeal, it presents Fleet Foxes' sound in a diluted manner, not really pushing forward any new ideas. While the song is enjoyable, it feels like generic indie-folk in the context of the previous two songs and the rest of the album.
The song "Featherweight" is a detour from the so-far optimistic tone. This piece of chilly folk finds Pecknold giving his most forlorn and despondent performance of the album. He uses war as a metaphor to describe the back and forth that comes with internal conflict. The song also gives a sense of isolation, like a cowboy riding his horse through a never-ending, gray desert.
The band ventures into folk-rock on the album with "Maestranza" and "Young Man's Game." The former gives a sense of elevation with the ascending guitars on the chorus. The latter has an infectious bounce to it as Pecknold reflects on the Fleet Foxes' 15-year career. He seems to be saying that getting older does not mean having to compromise a person's youth.
"I'm Not My Season" is another somber, low-key cut with a sparse instrumental of pattering drum hi-hats and gently strummed guitars. The song explores concepts of reaching out to loved ones and helping them understand they are not defined by the temporary struggles they are going through.
The track "Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman" is a beautifully expansive track that sounds like an amalgamation of ideas from their previous two albums. The thumping drum beat provides a forward momentum along with the rest of the instrumentation which sounds so massive that it could take up a performance hall. It finds solace in accepting where life takes you and realizing perfection is an unattainable goal.
The final track "Shore" begins with beautiful, enveloping piano keys, and the song transforms into a euphoric crescendo in the second half, much like the first song. Climactic drum rolls are accompanied by grandiose vocal harmonies. Pecknold uses the image of a shore to describe a place where the future is uncertain, but not a place of fear. Coming to terms with the present often involves accepting the uncertainty of what lies ahead.
"Shore" is no doubt an important album in Fleet Foxes' discography. It reminds the listener to appreciate the world and people around them because the tide of time is unpredictable, yet inevitable.
In my opinion, there are no terrible songs on the album. Certain tracks such as "A Long Way Past the Past", "Can I Believe You" or "For A Week or Two" were just not unique enough instrumentally or thematically. Still, Pecknold and company definitely broke new ground on the record, and it makes me wonder whether they will continue expanding this sound or move on to something else in the future. Until then, we can wade in the shore and expect the unexpected.