Best albums of 2017 #10 Fleet Foxes – Crack Up

Released on Sub Pop.

Is there such a thing as a critic’s record? Of course not, not even in the minds of the critics themselves. It is after all, an absurd idea.

But if there was such a thing, exhibit A would probably be something like Crack Up, Fleet Foxes third album released, after a six-year gap, one in which singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold effectively split the band to pursue a college career and hermitery, amongst other things.

The hiatus saw off Josh Tillman – for which on balance we should be thankful for, given his music since – but also punched a hole in Pecknold’s relationship with friend and sounding board Skye Skjelset, one which the latter has admitted felt would ultimately rule out any chances of a reformation.

Skjelset’s co-production credit speaks to how the bridge between the two was reformed, but Crack Up wasn’t a return to the honeyed melodies of their debut or a revised take on the density of it’s predecessor Helplessness Blues; instead it soared and brooded, Pecknold’s muses – Scott F Fitzgerald, Muhammed Ali – 20th century icons set against the mania of Trumpism.

At it’s best – the title track, Kept Woman, Fool’s Errand – it’s rich strain of lyrical narrative was matched by arrangements which were unfussy and convention defying without being contrived. It’s still flawed – Pecknold’s allegories can as ever dissipate the arcing vulnerability of his writing – but unquestionably this was work of a group with clarity of vision, one willing their audience to come with them as opposed to making music with a shrug of resignation.

This perhaps is Crack Up’s greatest escape, that of slipping into a space where redemption isn’t just found in kind words, but in appreciation from those without a slate to clean. It’s not a critic’s record, after all.

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