Three years after Crack-Up, Fleet Foxes’ spectacular third full-length LP, the Seattle-based indie folk band have made a surprise return with a warmer, but no less mercurial, dive into the psyche of front-man Robin Pecknold. Textured, intricate and soaked in existential euphoria, Shore poses a worthy challenge for Alex Beath's first glorious endeavour into music reviewing.
Corresponding with the autumnal equinox, Fleet Foxes’ surprise fourth studio album, Shore, was released on the 22nd of September, with an accompanying hour-long 16mm road movie directed by Los Angeles artist Kersti Jan Werdal. Essentially a solo work, Pecknold wrote the entirety of Shore alone, drawing inspiration from what he calls the “dark times” between touring 2011’s Helplessness Blues and writing 2017’s Crack-Up, as he dealt with suicidal ideation and depression.
Inevitably, the pandemic also had a role to play in the creation of the album, with Pecknold fleeing the West Coast and retreating into isolation in his New York apartment to continue writing with renewed vigour. Despite the album being informed by some of the Seattle-native's toughest moments, the record is a surprisingly upbeat one, more akin in tone to 2008’s self-titled full-length debut than the abstract Helplessness Blues, or the intense Crack-Up.
Imagery is a central component to all of Fleet Foxes’ work, and unsurprisingly water, the sea, and the weather are all recurring themes on Shore - nature and rural landscapes being used by Pecknold in nearly all of his work. However, whereas on Crack-Up, the ocean was conveyed as an angry, stormy entity, on Shore the sea is portrayed distinctly different. In fact, Pecknold explained on Instagram that the name ‘Shore’ was chosen for the title of the album because of a surfing accident that left him swimming against the currents for a long time, before finally reaching the shore - the album therefore being a representation of intense relief.
Celebrating the lives of other people is another theme which surfaces throughout the album; second track, Sunblind, being a key example of this. The song is an ode to being alive, with a warm, sunny chorus and uplifting lyrics: “I’m gonna swim for a week in/ Warm American water with dear friends.” The second verse also uses backing vocals to recite the first names of a few of Pecknold’s dead musical heroes (Arthur [Russell], Marvin [Gaye], Jimi [Hendrix]) in a tribute to some of his greatest inspirations. Fourth track Jara, is another rousing tribute, with the song itself being named after Victor Jara, a Chilean protester who was killed during the US-influenced 1973 coup which brought down the then socialist president Salvadore Allende.
“Shore is a reflection on life, art, and death.”
The first track off Shore, Wading in Waist High Water, opens with the soft, feathery vocals of Uwade Akhere, a student studying at the University of Oxford who Pecknold found on YouTube, and whose vocals reappear again at the end of the album. One minute in, the song bursts into life with a sweeping orchestral crash of drums and horns, setting the tone for the rest of the LP. The grand, layered sounds of the opening track is a running theme throughout Shore and can be seen again almost immediately on third track Can I Believe You. An uplifting, vibrant affair, it is one of the most listenable on the album, having an unmistakably sweeping feel to it that compliments the oceanic imagery.
Uncoincidentally, the tone and character of the album isn’t dissimilar to the character of the ocean. Bright, lively songs such as Maestranza; Young Man’s Game; and Sunblind represent the light, sunny aspect of the sea, whilst slower, more sentimental songs (Featherweight; I’m Not My Season; and For a Week or Two), echo the more peaceful, calm side of the ocean. The intense, stormy flipside is also embodied in songs like Quiet Air/ Gioia; and Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman, which have an angry, unstable quality to them - similar to the tones that ran through Crack-Up.
Like Crack-Up, Shore is a reflection on life, art, and death, but from a completely different perspective. Unlike the sombre, stormy atmosphere of Fleet Foxes’ third studio album, Shore’s vivacious take on life and death is more akin to Fleet Foxes’ debut and sophomore albums, leaving fans of Fleet Foxes’ early work well-pleased. Listening to Shore is an invigorating experience in which Pecknold takes a long, hard look at the world, and comes away not only satisfied, but optimistic.
Written by: Alexander Beath
Edited by: Dominic Allum