“Aren’t we made to be crowded together like leaves?” asks Robin Pecknold as the shifting tides break on the latest Fleet Foxes record. It’s been over six years since their sophomore album Helplessness Blues and their return is supremely magnificent. Tune your ears to what is the Fleet Foxes most deeply introspective and intimately personal journey.
How does one actually start dissecting this record? Better yet, where? I think the best starting point for a review of Crack-Up is probably the most distinct difference that sets this album apart from older Fleet Foxes releases and new music in general – fluidic structure. The internals of each song have a tendency to shift swiftly to uncover various intentions and emotions. Opening track I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar is already a distinctly different sound. The composition of which molds and shapes several times to complement a host of emotions. Guitar drones and fast-paced percussion cut out intermittently to let the narrator question Robin’s revelations and dealings with the difficult past. All the while, the song remains completely and beautifully intact – each movement being held up by a common thread.
The album is a lyrical and narrative masterpiece with incredible replay value. It’s a musical painting containing vivid imagery and visceral effects. Standout single Third of May / Odaigahara comes immediately to mind. What sounds initially like a typical Fleet Foxes song transforms into a graceful – albeit fragmented – timeline of Robin’s relationship with bandmate Skyler Skjelset. Robin reflects more cheerfully at one moment, cuts out the instruments and questions himself at the next, and concludes with a veil of Japanese mist. Follow-up track If You Need To, Keep Time On Me continues the theme of friendship. But it is much less critical and more stipped back. Robin opens the doors and projects gorgeous vocals over calming guitar strums to secure his trustworthiness.
Lyrics are definitely another strong suit of the album. They are dense with historical references and tightly tethered to the musical composition. On Another Ocean (January / June) has several memorable verses and lines. Robin sings “on the other ocean” as pianos and guitars create a cold distance between the subject and narrator. The coldness fades and transitions to a warmer atmosphere as he sings “you think the smoke it won’t enfold you? / Or there’ll be someone waiting for you off in the distance, then?” These critical reflections become more palpable as the drums and rhythm elevates to reveal how Robin is growing and learning.
Tangled up within the tapestry of the lyrical narrative and the music itself is a continuous network of imagery. Robin worked in continuous images of fire, water, and flowers to complement the feelings evoked by each track. Kept Woman is just one example out of many:
“God above saw, ever in the mind
Blue and white irises in a line
Under your nameless shame
I left you in frame, and you rose to be ossified
As a Rose of the Oceanside”
This metaphorical flower blooms and wilts throughout the track as suggested by the bracketed narration. The guitars and pianos crescendo and accent a brighter transition to reflect this blooming flower. All other songs also contain bracketed narration to provide another interesting facet to the experience. Pecknold adds an additional voice to give some extra detail without pointing out anything painfully obvious.
Honestly, there are not any significant deficiencies that I noticed on this album. The only slight grievance that I have is that some of the song endings feel awkwardly unresolved and abrupt. This is nothing to cry about, because it amounts to very little compared to the main content. Speaking of endings, final title track Crack-Up is a perfect resolve to the album. Light horns and swirling background vocals tie up the loose ends as Robin sings “all I see- / dividing tides – / rising over me.” Then Robin leaves and the silence enters.
Crack-Up feels like an adventure that highlights the meaningful aspects of the relationships that we have. Robin cultivates an atmosphere of interpersonal intimacy between himself, the subjects of his songs, and the listener. The album tackles important issues relating to submission and resistance. It is sincere, impressive, and thoroughly enjoyable. Give it a listen and you’ll see how “life unfolds in pools of gold.”