Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up (2017)

Fleet Foxes Crack Up Pecknold

After a six year wait, Fleet Foxes have returned from an indefinite hiatus to release their stellar third LP, Crack-Up. As a direct successor to 2011’s Helplessness Blues, Crack-Up proves itself to be a carefully crafted, mature progression from the existential crisis of HB. Those who worried that time away might take away from the Seattle-based outfit’s unique blend of complex folk instrumentals and incisive lyrics need not worry: the band retains its signature warm, rich sound while improving the depth of their lyrics.

The record kicks off with “I Am All I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar,” starting slow and measured, as if picking up immediately after the end of HB’s closing track, “Grown Ocean,” before roaring back to life in the second and third sections of the track. The strings and vocals soar above the percussion, conveying a distinct sense of urgency through the narrative as Pecknold reflects on his relationship with bandmate Skyler Skjelset, declaring “I was a child in the ivy then / I never knew you, you knew me”. This dynamic, and Pecknold’s struggle to define his relationship with Skjelset, which he once described as “unresolved” and “unrequited,” recurs as one of the work’s central themes.

This hazy friendship is further explored on the first single and album standout, “Third of May/Odaigahara” in a non-linear account that covers an entire decade, from late 2007 until January 20th, 2017. Robin details the distance and difficulty of maintaining a professional relationship with a good friend without neglecting the friendship, wondering if he was “too slow” or if Skjelset had “changed overnight” into someone he no longer knew. In this deliberation, he decides that it’s his responsibility to reach out and offer a “line to hold,” not only to Skjelset, but to everyone else in his life. Pecknold follows this sentiment in the next track, reaching out to Skjelset, telling him, “If you need to, keep time on me,” and guaranteeing that the relationship will never fall apart like it did during the band’s hiatus.

Along with exploring the band’s personal dynamics, Pecknold also explores his struggles “with the notion of needing an airtight reason” for living and “making [his] own meaning, and finding meaning in connection to other people.” On the album’s second single, “Fool’s Errand,” Pecknold ponders these issues in greater depth over a pounding beat and the familiar flourish of guitars and harps. He laments the familiar “chase after wind” but decides that the chase is meaning within itself. The moment of rock bottom, the “perdition” of the proverbial “Appomattox,” comes at “I Should See Memphis”. Pecknold, fully disillusioned with life and its meaninglessness, realizes he’s at his wits end, but that life isn’t just something he can cut his losses with. This is a man who has been broken down and defeated by life, but by the time the album’s self-titled closer begins, he’s back to the similar state of acceptance and contentment found on “Grown Ocean”. “Crack-Up” serves as the “ecstatic burst of energy” that defines the whole record, it channels all of Pecknold’s frustration with the ever-changing world into an ephemeral smattering of horns and vocal harmonies before floating away with the sound of Pecknold’s footsteps running up the studio’s stairs to stop the recording.

In a way, I was very unsure of what I had heard when I gave the album its first listen. This isn’t to say it was bad, just that there’s a lot to process about it. This quality, in fact, stands out as one of the album’s strengths. There’s enough material and particular details to explore that the album will continue to draw me back for years to come. The composition and lyricism are richer than ever: each component of each track feels necessary and truly fleshed out without straying into sounding bloated and needlessly complex. The strongest indicator of this being an instant classic is that every time I listen to Crack-Up, I feel like I didn’t get enough of it and immediately want to dive back in. This album is currently sitting at the top of my AOTY list and I cannot recommend it enough, especially if you enjoyed any of Fleet Foxes’ previous work.

Author: Cameron

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