Right about the time that Fleet Foxes third album, 2017’s Crack Up was released, front man Robin Pecknold appeared to be having something of existential crisis; shocked by the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election, the singer filled it’s songs with allegories to a different America, one of protest and lack of place, a bulwark against what he felt the juddering halt to social cohesion and progress the result offered implied.
Shore arrives in the midst of pandemic and arguably where the situation has deteriorated not improved, but rather than a retreat into mawkish self-pity, Pecknold has brought a new vigour to his own table, one that’s injected this new material with an attractive and approachable stride.
This shift back towards the glistery, harmony-perfect folk of their eponymous debut revives the impressionist qualities for which the public originally turned to them. Opener Wading In The Waist High Water has some of that mellifluous charm if not the precise air of economy, but on Young Man’s Game and the superb Maestranza even some of their old flaws – including a tendency towards the fey – have been firmly left in the woodshed.
Such exuberance from a man who seemed so weighed down in the past by his own contradictions comes despite a spring and summer living in virus-ravaged New York’s mixed circumstances, however as a cathartic byproduct Pecknold has came to terms with the anxiety which had stalked him for more than a decade. The dividends frequently rapturous: At times, Shore is the record which Fleet Foxes have been threatening (gently) to make in what feels like an eternity. Jara twists with a rapt, neo-psychedelic burr, whilst Can I Believe You is so effortlessly graceful and uplifting that any hint of strife is relegated to the tumbleweed of the past.
Predictably though this no throwaway tilt at mere pastoral pop. Sunblind – a lustrous junket from their pre-fame obsession with stiff-collared English metaphors – deals with the sombre legacy of lost and mourned performers such as Elliott Smith, put succinctly; “For every gift lifted far before it’s will”. It’s Not My Season – less sure of itself, bringing you closer – melds childhood experiences of sailing with those of a friend helping another through opioid addiction.
Such sleight of hand given the band’s history is far from incongruous. But a new enthusiasm is revealed in the use of snippets from The Beach Boys Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) interwoven through Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman, the original an obsessive inspiration for an adolescent to answer a calling in music that’s brought as much joy as it has recrimination.
Robin Pecknold’s walked that road – and Shore is Fleet Foxes cast into shapes and sounds which until now had rarely seemed likely to happen again.