fleet foxes - shore
After casting his net wide with 2017’s progressive and intellectually challenging Crack-Up, Robin Pecknold moves into more relatable territory on Shore, Fleet Foxes‘ winsome fourth outing. Blossoming with artistic growth after a six-year hiatus, Crack-Up saw the Seattle native flexing his academic muscle, leading the band through complex multi-part suites that, while often breathtaking, also roiled with the brine of troubled waters. Released to the public on the exact moment of 2020’s autumnal equinox with only a day’s advance notice, Shore‘s comparative tranquility plays almost like a reaction to its predecessor. However, far from a retreat to the earnest halcyon days of Fleet Foxes‘ first two albums, it stands firmly on the other side of Crack-Up both in sequence and emotional maturity. Whether intentionally linked to its thematic date of release or not, Shore‘s 15 songs and accompanying album-length 16mm art film thrive in a fertile tone of Indian summer liminality where darkness lurks at one end and wildflowers at the other. Songs like “Sunblind” and “Jara” resonate with sun-dappled expressions of gratitude and empathy, the former name-checking fallen musical heroes (Richard Swift, Arthur Russell, Elliot Smith) and the latter honoring the sacrifice and activism of friends. There are songs about shedding layers (“For a Week or Two” and “Young Man’s Game”) and finding peace (“Featherweight”), all wrapped up in neatly constructed folk-rock layers and the band’s trademark harmonies, which at this point consists almost entirely of Pecknold, who also played the bulk of the instruments and produced the album. The ambitious changes and arrangements that were a hallmark of earlier releases and threatened to overwhelm Crack-Up are still present, but more subtly applied and ultimately more rewarding. Intricate guitar and piano lines thread throughout most songs, with horns and unobtrusive synths popping in and out of the mix. For every ambitious cut, like the understated thrills of “Quiet Air / Gioia” or “Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman,” with it’s almost Sufjan Stevens-like orchestrations, there are gentle exhalations like the supple acoustic folk ballad “I’m Not My Season.” As a collection, Shore emits a sense of coming through something and arriving anew with the welcome bruises that foster greater understanding and compassion.