Six years after the late aughts folk-rock juggernauts released Helplessness Blues, the highly anticipated follow up to their pioneering debut, 2008’s Fleet Foxes, the Seattle-based quintet is back with their third album, Crack-Up.
At eleven songs and nearly an hour long, the band’s latest work is both their most challenging and their most rewarding. Crack-Up is, first and foremost, an intricately woven unified whole, with songs bleeding into one another and lyrical themes recurring throughout. Two of its standout moments, the opening triplet “I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar” and the nine-minute long “single” “Third Of May/Ōdaigahara” are deeply adventurous medleys — a collection of miniature songs within a song — that clash and cling to each other, resulting in grand, operatic statements from a band that’s historically relied on more of a quaint musical minimalism for its best work.
But such adventurousness is not an entirely new approach to songwriting for lead songwriter Robin Pecknold and the rest of the band, who began toying in earnest with meandering experimentation on Helplessness. But on their latest, the band’s melodies are crisper and sonic dynamics and tempo-shifts are employed to greater effect. So when Fleet Foxes’ archetypical, unadorned folksy harmony does occasionally appear, five minutes into the opening triplet, or towards the end of “On Another Ocean (January/June),” the payoff is that much more rewarding.
“Third of May/Odaigahara”
“Aren’t we meant to be crowded together?” Pecknold sings on this abstract, cinematic epic tale of loyalty and communion that starts off as a bright, folk-pop song before descending into a dissonant, orchestral exploration.
“I Should See Memphis”
On this five-minute, contemplative acoustic tale of a lost traveler wandering the world, Pecknold shows that even when the orchestral veneer and heady conceptualizing is stripped away, Fleet Foxes can still write a killer straightforward folk tune.