Album Review: Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

When I got my first car, Fleet Foxes and Helplessness Blues were two of the very first albums I bought, partly a side effect of my frantic attempts to absolve myself from succumbing to the toxic abyss of pre-teen pop music that still had a hold on me judging from my music library, but mostly because I had become infatuated with the music itself. I remember I wanted something more, something better from music at that time, and that I specifically wanted physical copies to put in my car’s driver’s side pocket even though during that time it seemed to me as if everyone was still drunk on digital downloads, still in the honeymoon era of marrying technology with, considering the state of affairs today, no divorce in sight. I listened to Robin Pecknold’s honeyed, passionate vocals and his guitar’s melancholic plucks mixed with the feeling of warmth due to the sunshine filtering through the windshield and the potent smell of my old volvo’s musty seats, and soon I began to equate Fleet Foxes with the ideas of freedom and independence, both of which I had to briefly set aside the moment I unbuckled my seatbelt and stepped onto the pavement. Pecknold’s commanding, intellectual songwriting and intricate, thoughtful compositions managed to rid my adolescent mind of any anguish I had compiled throughout the day, and I could focus on the road ahead of me, save for the occasional existential thought now and again.

With the gift of the car came a series of unavoidable events that come with growing older – graduation from high school, entrance into college, the required reading of what seemed like hundreds of poems and essays for my English degree, writing countless papers over the research of countless literary ideas, and finally, early graduation from college with said English degree – and afterwards, perhaps because I didn’t seize as much from the experience as I should have, I couldn’t help feeling as if I was ripped painfully down the middle, simultaneously reaching for the future while beckoning for the past to continue. Pecknold drew a similar conclusion for himself after touring for Helplessness Blues, and in turn, returned to college and took up several recreational classes to clear his mind, shortly afterwards returning to music once he realized those things didn’t help him return to a sense of peace as much as songwriting and composition did.

And now, six years after the release of Helplessness Blues and five years after sliding it into my car’s cd player throughout the stress of growing up and realizing personal responsibility, I know that if I tried to listen to Crack-Up while driving, it wouldn’t give me the same freeing feelings of independence, but hopeful wistfulness instead – Pecknold’s journey, while perhaps not able to be replicated or even fully understood by the next person, the emotions experienced throughout are at least, to some effect, relatable, and after a few trying years of my own I understand that due to living in a world so unforgiving and unfair, it seems necessary to indulge in one’s own thoughts and desires – while at the same time avoiding to some extent the pressures and recent events of society – in order to provide it with any form of worthwhile contribution. And, Crack-Up, beautifully cinematic and painfully thoughtful, might be Fleet Foxes most meaningful contribution yet.

Part of the reason why Fleet Foxes and Helplessness Blues (as well as their Sun Giant EP) were so highly regarded when they were released was due to their sheer accessibility while simultaneously expressing such intellectual and visually dense narratives; you could instantly be transported to the Blue Ridge Mountains where no one knows your name, or lost and starry-eyed on Mykonos, or be placed at the edge of the ocean with hope and wistfulness wound so tightly together you couldn’t tell which you were feeling. The music, pure indie folk at its core, evoked ‘60’s instrumentals and nostalgic tones, somehow managing to be soft and piercing in delivery. The lyrics were thoughtful, even prophetic at times, as Pecknold lamented his struggles so eloquently you’d think they were yours – and in a way, they were, for his writing addressed relatable topics, including growing older, pining after love, and the various idiosyncrasies that come with being a human being – one listen to “Montezuma” and you’ll notice they can nail all three within a few minutes.

Crack-Up, on the other hand, doesn’t seem geared towards immediately pleasing the masses, or inciting one same stirring feeling of warmth or acceptance for a packed festival crowd. Instead of being a prophetic voice, Pecknold takes the role of quiet (and at times not so quiet) observer, making his comments on the injustices of the world then stepping aside for someone of higher privilege to take command. And, when considering all that’s changed since the release of their sophomore album, listening to Crack-Up just makes sense, more if you consider the current state of affairs to be even a little bit askew, or if you find yourself pining for who you used to be. Even the title, which is taken from an F. Scott Fitzgerald essay of the same name, is a reference to the state of being broken, evaluating everything that has happened up to the point of breaking, and ultimately having to venture back inside yourself in order to come out whole, albeit shaken, on the other side.

Whether you take Pecknold himself, the world, or even your own experiences into consideration when listening is completely up to you – even just regarding Crack-Up as a purely aesthetic album filled with beautiful noise would surely be completely valid in Pecknold’s eyes – there’s that much happening all at once. Of course, there are moments where Pecknold addresses said social injustices – “Cassius, -” narrates his participation in protests following the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and “If You Want To, Keep Time on Me” as well as the title track both address post-election anxiety. All three, however, sound so incredibly heavy in terms of instrumentation and emotion and not easily able to latch on to in terms of a set melody or vocal line, solidifying his desire to not be that higher voice that guides others, and be more of a supporter of those who can do so more eloquently. Gone are the soft, colorful images of working in orchards and sitting in ragged woods – Pecknold instead places you at the edge of the jagged cliffs that appear on the album’s cover, forcing you to think rather than sing along with the melody so comfortably.

Though Pecknold has stated he doesn’t quite understand the over-analyzation of lyrics in music criticism, it’s incredibly difficult not to at least address them in Crack-Up, for they are incredibly and unbelievably beautiful – the main subject of the medieval, rustic tinged “Kept Woman” is addressed as a “rose of the oceanside,” and she’s asked to “widow [her] soul for another mile,” perhaps worn after years of being someone else’s possession. Pecknold claims she is not broken, but instead stronger than he, and, insisting he’s changed, claims they’re bound to be reconciled at some point in the future, revisiting that half-hopeful, half-wistful character once again.

Crack-Up is best, however, when Pecknold is caught up in his own emotions and possessed by real-world nostalgia, so taken with what he’s communicating that the instrumentals all tend to blur together into euphoria. “Fool’s Errand,” perhaps the cleanest and most evocative in terms of composition, are the first of the cinematic tracks, as the jolted, piercing instrumentals simulate galloping horses or crashing waves, while Pecknold’s vocals soar and glide in betwixt them. He is both enchanted by and disgusted with his desire to remain in his current state until he sees a sign, until his “sight dream” comes to mind – the chorus sang and supported instrumentally with such simultaneous chaos and frustration that it begins to sound like divine catharsis. It’s even better when the track has a moment of sudden epiphany – “On Another Ocean (January / June)” begins, as the title says, in January, with Pecknold riddled with suspicion and hesitation, then suddenly transitions to June, where all those questions are treated with sense of self-reliance where Pecknold screams into the void amidst blossoming instrumentals that, in one of the most beautiful phrases of the album – “I won’t bleed out/ if I know me” – back to emphasising the importance of self-indulgence in order to survive in a continuously changing society.

And of course, there’s the nine minute epic “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” the track that is nostalgia epitomized, the track that is more for Pecknold himself than anyone else – and that’s okay, given just how much honesty and genuine emotion oozes out of every second. It is essentially a track detailing the close friendship of Pecknold and band co-founder Skye Skjelset, and details of him are everywhere, including the title (Skjelset’s birthday falls on May 3rd). It’s an anthem for friendship as well as personal responsibility – Pecknold is “only owed this shape if [he] makes a line to hold” – and both seem to be needed today more than ever.

Crack-Up, though not as immediately warm and inviting as its predecessors, still succeeds in evoking that sense of breathless admiration and intellectual emotion Fleet Foxes began with, as well as the feeling of being lost in time. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have never experienced your own crack-up, the search for something bigger and bolder than yourself is, for the most part, universal.

9.0/10

P

photo by Sean Pecknold
Advertisements

Fleet Foxes – “Fool’s Errand”

Next month, indie folk group Fleet Foxes will share their third full length album Crack-Up, their first official release since 2011’s stunning album Helplessness Blues. They’ve already shared the sprawling, masterful “Third of May / Odaigahara,” which was just as thoughtful and euphoric as everything they’ve ever created. Late last week the group shared the equally majestic second single “Fool’s Errand,” perhaps one of their most beautiful tracks to date. The instrumentals, full and robust, simulate galloping horses, while Pecknold’s enamored voice reverberates freely within them. He expresses his mistake in waiting for his “sight dream” – whether that be fulfillment, love, or some other otherworldly phenomenon – while simultaneously reveling in the time spent in limbo, explaining that he “can’t leave until the sight comes to mind.” The big, swooping instrumentals periodically dip down and settle into the shimmering chorus, like a soaring desert bird that lands into what it thinks is an oasis. Pecknold’s voice is almost prophetic, the large sound pointing towards a more thematic and stylistic approach for the new album.

Crack-Up will be released on June 16th.

P

photo by Sean Pecknold

Band Appreciation Friday – Fleet Foxes

Oh man what I used to be, oh man oh my oh me

Fleet Foxes will forever be one of my favorite indie folk bands simply because they never fail to provide me with a song for any of life’s unbearable or beautiful moments, which is a quality I definitely hold dear. They are accessible yet cryptic, melancholic yet sanguine, restrained yet always evoking a hint of hopefulness. I will always hold folk music in high regard because I believe that it has the tendency to be some of the most raw and pure sounds there are. Like I have said before, folk music, especially Fleet Foxes, has a predisposition for hiding, but I honestly think that the chase for meaning is worth it in the long run.

220px-Sun+giantFleet Foxes is fronted by lead singer and songwriter Robin Pecknold, whose outward appearance immediately gives away the whole genre of the band, which I absolutely love. This is a man who literally is his music, and it’s refreshing in a way. His parents were the type that wholeheartedly enjoyed music and understood it’s magical qualities (his father was even in a band), so he was exposed to all this amazing music at a very early age. He started Fleet Foxes with a friend many years after that and started to record demos. Many were impressed with Robin Pecknold’s songwriting, to which I would describe as being incredibly mature and evocative. As for his voice, it’s one beyond his years. The rest of the band formed soon after, and the band was born. Fleet Foxes released their debut EP Sun Giant in  2008, having only five songs. From the first track “Sun Giant,” Pecknold’s musical abilities are clearly showcased, and the songs that were released were each more impressive than the last. Fleet Foxes took aspects of many different genres, including the purity of church-choir music mixed with the riffs of classic rock, for example, or soothing interludes meshed with indie overtones. “Mykonos” is my favorite from this EP, and it’s a song I have a deep, personal connection to. There’s just something about it that yearns for the past; something about it that beckons for the times you’d rather forget but must keep near for the sake of sentimentality. It’s an enigma of a song, and it’s one that I will always hold dear to my heart. Sun Giant was an impressive start, to say the very least, and it’s brilliant uses of falsetto and reverb left the listener with a sense of longing for more.

220px-Fleet_foxesFleet Foxes then released their debut album Fleet Foxes the same year as Sun Giant, and it proved to be quite a treasure. Rather than elaborate off of the already relatively fresh EP, the folk band decided to do some sampling – namely, mix together aspects of the best of the best to create music that could be listened to by everyone – no matter your music taste, there was a song for you on this album. Yes, the range was broad: “White Winter Hymnal” and “Ragged Wood” set the stage for a whimsical, fluttery scene in which you imagine woodland animals scampering about, while “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” quickly turns your mood dark and somber. “Your Protector” and “Blue Ridge Mountains” are one of my favorites off of this album because they erupt with an overwhelming sense of power and resilience that inspires me each time I listen to them. Again, the folk melodies are subtly nestled in between classic rock beats and smooth choral interludes, and it all turns into a new, different sound. Robin Pecknold has such an amazing grasp on his own voice, and that control really matters with passionate songs like these. Soft rhythms and folk references make Fleet Foxes a stand-alone album, one that deserves to be held with high praise.

220px-FleetFoxesHelplessness_Blues2011The Fleet Foxes trifecta was then completed with the release of their third album Helplessness Blues. This album was undeniably their most mature and focused album yet, and it clearly showed with Robin’s songwriting and the rest of the bands mellow undertones. This album has one of my absolute favorite songs of all time: the melodic, brilliant masterpiece titled “Montezuma.” The lyrics in that song are nothing sort of perfection to me, and it will always somehow leave you both inspired and crestfallen all at once. “Helplessness Blues” is the showstopper here, and it doesn’t disappoint. It brings the tension of love and loss to a new angle, and the battle between them is breathtaking. “Sim Sala Bim” is poetic and lovely, while “Lorelai” is a waltz of joy. Overall, Helplessness Blues evoked a sense of introspection and sincerity, all while portraying a more mature image.

Fleet Foxes has a different sound to me mainly because their album was the first physical CD I had bought in a very very long time. I bought both their albums and kept them both in my very first car immediately after I had gotten my license, and so they had a bit more sentimental value that way. Since then, I always attribute Fleet Foxes with a sense of independence and the feeling of being carefree for once in a very long time, which is why I am always filled with nostalgia when I listen to these beautiful songs.

 

P

 

 

Covers – Fleet Foxes’ “Electric Feel”

I really love Fleet Foxes. And I really like MGMT’s song “Electric Feel.” So, you know that whenever the two come together I’m one happy camper. Granted, this is not actually Fleet Foxes and it’s actually one guy impersonating them (which he does a damn good job of). I honestly thought it was Fleet Foxes the first time I heard it. That’s how talented this guy is. He sings all kinds of songs by all different artists in the style of Fleet Foxes and it is absolutely brilliant and incredible. I’ve been listening to his cover of “Electric Feel” on repeat all day.

P

Fleet Foxes – “Montezuma” (Song of the Week 2/11/2014)

Every Tuesday and Thursday, the Fox and the Sound will have a song that showcases what is right with music today.

Helplessness-Blues-Fleet-Foxes2School was cancelled today, thank the heavens. So, I’m just sitting in my room listening to music and watching band interviews on YouTube (A.K.A bliss). For today’s Song of the Week, I have chosen “Montezuma” by Fleet Foxes. I’ll probably have to do a “Band Appreciation Friday” on Fleet Foxes soon, because they are one of my favorite indie folk bands. Montezuma is possibly my favorite Fleet Foxes song, although it’s a close call between “Your Protector” and “Blue Ridge Mountains.” What really stands out in this song is the lyrics. The very first line is genius and holds a special place in my heart as being one of the most well written lines ever. The song opens with a mesmerizing guitar melody, then main singer Robin Pecknold sings (“So now I am older/ than my mother and father/ when they had their daughter/ so what does that say about me?”). This line is so meaningful. He is saying that now he’s reached an age where he should have settled down and had a child himself, he realizes that he’s no longer a child, and, more importantly, that he’s still alone. It explains that at this point, he doesn’t know where he is going or what he is doing with his life and starts to do some serious introspection (“oh man what I used to be/ oh man oh my oh me”). His voice is simply perfect, and his lyrics are pure poetry. They really spoke to me and continues to. It’s definitely one of my better songs to play on the guitar, and to sing it really takes stress away. Fleet Foxes are amazing, and I will talk more about them and why they are so incredible in perhaps a week or two. “Montezuma” is from Fleet Foxes’ third album, Helplessness Blues.

P