It’s been 14 years now and for the majority of that time Fleet Foxes have spearheaded what would be considered the modern indie-folk movement. Crafting excellent tune after tune that would make the forefathers of the Laurel Canyon music scene proud that a band like this came along to carry the torch forward.
For better or worse, sometimes creating a narrative for your record gives you a footing in this incredibly tumultuous industry and for this fourth album cycle, Fleet Foxes have done just that. I mean, there’s no way to avoid this fact, but Robin Pecknold announced a day before that they would be releasing Shore the next day.
This not only creates a conversation but also a memory. It also highlights the artist’s control of the release process, one that continues to send music fans into spirals.
For speed readers and briefers who will scan this review looking for buzz words and sentences, I’ll provide a spoiler up top – yes, this is one of the best albums of the year and yes, Shore will be sprayed throughout pretty much every publications best albums of the year list, but here at Sun 13 I’ll delve into a little of why it’ll make your top 10.
Change is in the air, and the most radical one here apart from the enlisting of fan Uwade Akhere to open your album in the gorgeous Wading in Waist-High Water (who lends her incredible voice and will make you question whether or not you were listening to the right file), but it’s Pecknold who makes the decision to omit his regular band mates and enlists a group of diverse musicians from New York’s brass quartet, The Westerlies, Kevin Morby and Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen and Christopher Bear (who features on most tracks).
Whether the change-up in personnel was planned or due to circumstance it’s definitely a welcomed change. Thematically, as it’s been widely stated, Pecknold wanted to brighten up things here, which definitely shows in the uplifting compositions.
Following from that he wanted the record to “exist in a liminal space outside of time” and growing well into his mid ’30s exploring his own mortality with the celebration of “life in the face of death”.
Where other’s have delved deep into the mechanics of how the record was made and the certain tracks that stood out the most, it would almost be a disservice to do that because each track is as wonderful as the last. Filled yet again with pitch perfect harmonies and stunning vibrations, I’d love to know what didn’t make this record because I’m in actual awe of the track list. The greatest compliment you could give Pecknold is that he has created something timeless.
However, it would be rude not mention at least a few songs…
From the string of quality from the top (including Sunblind, an incredibly beautiful tribute to artists passed), we’ll have our first stop at Maestranza, a white boy soul tune that was heavily inspired by Bill Withers, so much so there are four other versions of this song floating around. Just wow… How do you follow it up? Oh yes, with the elegant I’m Not My Season where Pecknold delicately strums and sings, “Time’s not what I belong to”, something that’s heavily relatable to anyone who feels they were born out of time.
Finally with Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman, which is no doubt the most complex and grandiose song on the record. The instrumentation is wild (if you lean in hard enough you can hear Rossen’s magical touch layered on top) and is a sure-fire tribute to that Brian Wilson/Beach Boys aesthetic and it’s the crowning achievement of this record.
I really wanted at first glance to kind of crown Shore as Fleet Foxes best record yet, but after listening to the back catalogue it would be unfair in a way because what it actually is, is a perfect succession to Crack-Up – a record of the same world in which you could segregate Fleet Foxes and Helplessness Blues as phase one and Crack-Up and Shore as phase two.
Although in terms of personal preference, Shore definitely takes this listener to a higher place and Robin Pecknold does in fact make his most grandiose and playfully executed statement yet, it’s warm and thoughtful and the experience of the journey is calming and exciting all in one.
Its greatest asset is that like most of Pecknold‘s contemporaries who’ve veered off into other genres and styles (no need to mention names), Fleet Foxes dig deeper, show a depth and maturity of the style of music that put them on the map, the songwriting grows with age and the compositions grow more complex in the best way imaginable.
Shore is an album which was made of its time. When the world is burning and time keeps taking away the classic artists of yesteryear, we are given a gift from a musician at the top of his game, a small gesture of comfort in these trying times.
Shore is out now via ANTI–