Against all expectations Fleet Foxes are finally back and you sure can trust the fact that Robin Pecknold and his crew actually didn’t intend to let you down at all. And they really didn’t.
Crack-up came out on June 16th for Nonesuch records with the highest fans’ expectations after a 6-years gap from the last much acclaimed Helplessness blues (which definitely placed the Seattle native band on the top of the folk rock charts all over the world) and 9 long years after the major success of their namesake debut album Fleet Foxes in 2008.
What’s clear right away about this incredibly talented band is that they have always taken their time before publishing some piece of music and, seen the results, we just have to be grateful for this. Anyway, you can’t do but notice that 6 years begin to look like way too many for a band that wants to release something that they only consider a great album, they definitely believed this was a much more ambitious project, so what happened?
Well, from a chronological perspective, first of all its about Fleet Foxes and its members, just one year after the release of Helplessness blues in 2012 drummer Josh Tillman left the band. As stated little time later, the relationships among him and the rest of the group wasn’t that easy anymore: according to Josh there were often “too many tears”. Then Robin Pecknold crossed a quite difficult time -what he defined as a sort of identity crisis after his long time girlfriend left him- and moved far away from Portland to live a gap of time alone, studying at the Columbia University and exercising and working as a woodman.
These and many other factors played a huge part in the creation of this third gem of what ends up to be a perfect trilogy. And they take part just right from the start, beginning from the very first track “I am all that I need/ Arroyo Seco/ Thumbprint Scar”: it all starts with a sluggish, distracted guitar on which a voice is whispering, or maybe singsonging or humming something that sounds like a lullaby, a motto or an old memory accompanied by an eco. Then, all of a sudden, the whispering gets swept away and you are crushed by a violent ruffle of incredibly energetic and dynamic guitars which kind of wake you up from the dreamy, intimate atmosphere you had been for the first 2 minutes. It all perfectly matches to Robin‘s voice which is now determined and clear, secure and cheerful, just like we used to know it. The whole track is marked out by this fight between his strong, positive voice and the others interfering; actually disturbing the other’s self-confidence. This friction is translated into the musical structure too, resulting in two thematic blocks corresponding to the different voice mood.
It gets more and more complex if you consider that, as you can see from the title, the “song” is divided into three different moments, that every verse is introduced by a sort of caption about the setting of what Robin‘s telling (just like a set design book) and that the chorus you hear at last is nothing but a recording of some high-school kids covering White Winter Hymnal from Fleet Foxes that you can actually find on Robin‘s Instagram.
And this is only the first song: no detail you find on Crack-up is left to chance.
The journey goes on with “Cassius” without even you realizing when one “song” ends and one other begins because of the sea/watering sound in the background that recurs all over the work. In “-Naiades, Cassadies” and “Kept woman” some of the ’60s psychedelic mood of our well known early Fleet Foxes comes back again with much more interest for the piano and its onomatopoeic qualities in translating the underwater or marine world in music. In fact you will actually find yourself unable to avoid getting hypnotized by the record’s cover picture and end swallowed up by it.
Going along we finally get to “Third of May/Ōdaigahara”: this was the first single off the album and it’s explicitly dedicated to Fleet Foxes‘ co-founder and Robin‘s long-standing friend Skye Skjelset which birthday falls on the 3rd of May; an engaging still not too complex ballad full of references evoking their first music influences from Bob Dylan to Cohen or Goya‘s art.
It ends up being very hard to pinpoint the highest moments in such a high quality record, this said it probably stands between “I am all that I need/Arroyo Seco/Thmbprint Scar” and “Fool’s errand”, in its incredibly original sound references to Syd Barrett‘s Octopus and the very first “The Zombies”. What more, Fleet Foxes have always had the absolutely ambiguous characteristic of being out of time, which makes them out of any stylistic or technical trend. And this is what definitely makes them one of a kind. We really need people like them, we need their authenticity more than we think.
Crack-up is the natural result of the growth of a man who sort of found himself and his own peace of mind finally managing to truly reconcile his inside with his outside, and who consciously transposed this aspect in music in an authentic cathartic work of rebirth in its wide movements and light-hearted still mature sounds. It might be hasty to say that we’re facing Fleet Foxes‘ greatest work, let’s just say we’ve definitely got good reasons to expect the very best from it.