Fleet Foxes have shared Shore, their first new album since 2017's Crack-Up and another incredible chapter in their pristine discography.Sometimes things feel cosmic, as if the stars have aligned to present incredible fortune, and in 2020 we could all use more of those kinds of moments. Shore, the new record from Fleet Foxes, arriving precisely on the Fall Equinox, seems to be one of them and while surprising fans with new music is almost expected these days, this is still a much welcomed shock. Perhaps it was because of the lengthy wait between their sophomore record Helplessness Blues and Crack-Up or the way the later album felt a bit finite, a new record from the folk-rock luminaries is not only welcomed, but exceeds any expectation that could've built up over the past few days. Also, dropping a new album on a day that isn't Friday and not at midnight made this also feel pretty special.
The change in musical directions from the first two Fleet Foxes records into the ornate orchestrations and complex song structures of their third offering left many feeling like whatever came next from the band would again be an adventure into new territory. A band lyrically rooted in the earth, their pastoral songs often reflect the beauty of nature and reflection process that draws forth so much thinking. The imagery of "White Winter Hymnal" was an early indicator of the band's connection to nature and the themes grew on tracks like "Grown Ocean" or in the lyrical content of working in an orchard until you're sore or wondering why the stars are hung just so in the night sky. These ideas are once again showcased on Shore and in a grand statement shared with the world, Robin Pecknold said: "I wanted to make an album that felt like a relief, like your toes finally touching sand after being caught in a rip current. I wanted the album to exist in a liminal space outside of time, inhabiting both the future and the past, accessing something spiritual or personal that is untouchable by whatever the state of the world may be at a given moment, whatever our season. I see 'shore' as a place of safety on the edge of something uncertain, staring at Whitman’s waves reciting 'death,' tempted by the adventure of the unknown at the same time you are relishing the comfort of the stable ground beneath you. This was the mindset I found, the fuel I found, for making this album."
Shore is a bit of both the old and new. It's unmistakably a Fleet Foxes record, but not a retread of their past. If anything, Shore feels more like a stepping stone that should've come earlier in their career, but now makes total sense as their new chapter. It's not the prog-fueled odyssey like their last epic, but it's not as straightforward and melodic as their earliest recordings. It's clear that the arrangements of classics like Pet Sounds and Sgt. Peppers are still major influences on Pechnold's songwriting even if the baroque-pop heyday of the mid-2000s has passed, but his approach still feels fresh and exciting. Given the current state of the world, time allowed for him to really rely on the studio magic that spawned those two influences and alter his approach towards crafting songs. This strikes a delicate balance that is just as intriguing and inviting as their past work, but still brings something new to their sonic table. Vocal melodies blossom much as you'd expect and their technicolor guitar work further accentuates their brilliant sound. Robin Pecknold's vocals are still the prominent focus of the band and while he gives up his voice on the opening track, gears swiftly shift and the band collectively comes together to create something uniquely their own. The jagged vocal mis-steps of "Jara" add new textures to their sound and after numerous listens, the intricacy of each track slowly reveals itself. In fact, there are so many subtle moments of brilliance on the record that as soon as it feels like magic has been uncovered, the next charm is revealed. "Can I Believe You" ups the anti earlier on before we're hit with the finger plucking of "Featherweight," the vocals of "For A Week or Two," and then the whole back-half of the album which comes along and really drives home the feelings. This truly flows like an album, each track on its own perhaps not so significant, but together they create an astounding auditory experience. Getting lost in a Fleet Foxes album has never been hard and with each subsequent release, the band seems to challenge their listeners to really dive deep into their work. Shore is no different and perhaps the album that requires the most attention to detail, each listen slowly unveiling pure magic buried slightly beneath the surface. Perhaps what's most striking is that Pecknold suggests that this is only the beginning of what the band has in store and that nine more tracks will see the light of day next year, written from the ground-up with the rest of the band. It's unclear if that is to suggest that Shore is largely a Robin solo effort or that the band is in a groove that has been perpetuated by quarantine and they'll capitalize on this streak of creativity, but for now let us all revel in the fact that the group has once again struck gold and could quite possibly do it again so soon. Until then, however, stay mesmerized in the trance of their latest offering and succumb to the elegance of their newest creation, a moment that is truly cosmic just as much as it's grounded in the splendors of the Earth.
Shore is out now, digitally, and physical copies will arrive February 5 via ANTI.