Some may wonder why it’s taken 6 years for Fleet Foxes to follow-up sophomore record ‘Helplessness Blues’; after all, this album, along with their eponymous debut – released in 2008 – garnered fan and critical acclaim, not to mention various jaunts around the globe. Suffice to say, Fleet Foxes had become a BIG deal. Chief Fox, Robin Pecknold had grown weary of the pressures of touring and the relentlessness of being in a successful group; he sought a brief return to normality to reset his life “I wanted to not think of myself as a professional musician for a few years”. Pecknold had been making noises of “returning to school” all the way back in 2009 and he did just that, enrolling at Columbia University in New York on an undergraduate course to study music and English literature. During his time as student Pecknold still tinkered with musical ideas, some not so Fleet Fox-esque; some that sounded like homages to Sonic Youth or music that could score films. Gradually fragmented ideas began to coalesce and these fruits ripened to become third LP ‘The Crack-Up’.
The group’s third instalment is said to be influenced by Moroccan gnawa music, Vanuatu water music and F. Scott Fitzgerald – the album’s title is taken from the writer’s 1936 essay that bears the same name. Good to see Pecknold’s time at Columbia University was put to good use! ‘Crack-Up’ is a sprawling opus that almost clocks in at an hour and it’s bestowed with more twists and turns than a remote mountain road in the middle of nowhere. Some tracks contain an album’s worth of material in them alone with the likes of opener ‘I Am All That I Need / Arroyo / Thumbprint Scar’ and ‘Third of May / Odaigahara’ sprawling to nearly seven and eight minutes respectively. There’s a conceptual bent running through ‘Crack-Up’ as songs tend to bleed into one, plus the inclusion of song titles that are broken down into defined parts carries an almost cinematic quality. Sonically Fleet Foxes flit from demo-like murmurs of barely audible vocals and acoustic strums to a restless folk-like jauntiness that has given the band their name.
There’s an earthy quality to the aural personality of the record and with this, an intimacy is portrayed; this intimate nature is rubberstamped by Pecknold’s rich vocals and the band’s combined vocal harmonies. Lyrically, the same vein is followed with “you stole the life from you/who turned you so against you?” found cropping up on ‘- Naiads, Cassadies’ and the pleading line of “can I just get some sleep” appearing on ‘I Am All That I Need / Arroyo / Thumbprint Scar’; this being an interesting juxtaposition to the restlessness of the sonics wrapped around the insomniac-like wordplay.
With the album’s long duration and its penchant to wriggle from withdrawn to full-blooded, ‘Crack-Up’ loses some momentum by its eventual finale plus it can become a little predictable in its unpredictability – in that the record has those two settings – near silence and rampant folk. Although, ‘The Crack-Up’ is an ambiguous record that will constantly reveal multiple surprises on repeated visits. For the devoted Foxes fans, out there – the band’s return will be something of a near biblical event.
Words and thoughts of Adam Williams