By: Amanda McMillan
A lot has happened in the three years since we last heard new music from Seattle’s folk-rock royalty, Fleet Foxes, and even more has happened since we first heard their charming, emotive harmonies on their self-titled debut LP back in 2008. In all the time that has passed, the band has found a way to stay true to their sound while simultaneously giving us a healthy dose of evolution. The band doesn’t claim to be what it once was (particularly without some of its founding members, most notably Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty), but then again who wants to be exactly how they used to 12 years ago? Fleet Foxes has always been a band that managed to synthesize the world around them, bringing emotion, and often turmoil, to the forefront; angst, but make it beautiful.
They certainly don’t let us down with Shore, a robust album layered with instrumentals and familiar harmonies. Previous albums have left a little more room, leaving feelings lingering behind rather than sustaining this kind of momentum. However Shore, much like 2017’s Crack Up, has a lot of energy. They seem to have fully moved away from that sleepy, folky, soothing vibe a la “Mykonos” and more into a crisp, vibrant alt. rock vibe. The vocals are still just as comforting and familiar, featuring harmonies that wrap around each other like a bow on a gift. As someone whose lifeblood is good harmony, Fleet Foxes can pretty much do no wrong there.
There is a refreshing sense of newness and hopefulness throughout the album. The lyrics evoke a lot of nature imagery, which seems apt as we collectively come to terms with the state of our planet and the answers that exist out in the natural world for us to unveil and connect with. There is a story being told with each song, each one like picking up a book off of the shelf. This is not the kind of album that sinks in after just one listen, indeed it requires discovery.
On “Sunblind”, there is an upbeat, almost cheery energy, including a call and response that gives it an unexpected playfulness. It gives off a bit of a 21st Century Beach Boys vibe, catchy sweet.
Next, we have “Can I Believe You”, featuring lovely choral vocals off the top, and giving us catchy guitar riffs and melodies. It seems thematically relevant for 2020, with a great tempo and a bit of an anthemic spirit.
On “Featherweight”, we get that epic acoustic guitar styling we know and love from the band. Unsurprisingly, there are traces of Whitney in some of the vocal stylings (or is it that Whitney has traces of Fleet Foxes?) which feels more in line with their older work.
At the mid-way point is “For A Week or Two” and all it needs is one word: harmonies.
Following that is “Maestranz”, an epic marching song of sorts, with scaling bass lines, pointed piano, and raucous guitar, it's an edgy and powerful follow up to “For A Week or Two”, but seems more in the world that Fleet Foxes is heading.
The album ends with the title song “Shore”, and a what a way to end an album. With melancholy, delicate piano, it's sad and yet hopeful. The duet harmony is beautiful and ever so slightly haunting. It's the kind of song that kind of swirls around you as you listen, pulling you in, almost hypnotically as you simultaneously experience all of it and yet focus on each piece.
Lead singer Robin Pecknhold has described Shore as Crack Ups’s “friendly brother”, which feels like an apt metaphor. We could all use someone friendly right now, especially as we are whisked into a change of seasons. It has a bigger energy that I was expecting from the band, particularly after revisiting (and crying a lot to) them earlier this year. At 15 tracks, it feels longer than its 54 minute run time, but it's a journey you don't want to rush. Every song is not necessarily achingly beautiful or poignant, but it's clear each one was written and chosen with intention, inviting us to take the time to unravel its layers. It's an album to sit with, to sift through, searching for something else each time we listen. That’s the best kind of album for the Fall, one that’s patient enough to wait for us to find whatever it is that we are looking for.