Okay, before I begin I have to declare a little conflict of interest here. About two and a half years ago I experienced what I’d call the most profound moment of my life to the sound of Fleet Foxes ‘White Winter Hymnal’, and then six months later my wife and I had it playing during our wedding ceremony as we signed the register. Also, their last record – 2017’s Crack-Up – is right up there with my favourite albums of all time. So, I guess what I’m saying is that I am in no way approaching this from an impartial angle.
Obviously following a record as singular as Crack-Up is no easy task, and in a way Fleet Foxes have produced something in Shore that kind of exists as both an extension of it, as well as a sequel. Majestic as these fifteen tracks are though, I find it hard to picture this set winning over a huge amount of new fans. However, the beauty of Robin Pecknold’s music is that he’s long given up making concessions. In many ways their career up until now is one of two distinct eras: BC – before Crack-Up – and AC – well, you get the picture. Put simply: if you went along for the ride with the last record, then you are in for something truly spectacular here.
One of the things that has become increasingly apparent is that, while many of their contemporaries from Pitchfork’s Class of ’08 seemed to head for the synthesisers in search of new ground (Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, and – poor man’s Fleet Foxes tribute though they are – Mumford and Sons), the Seattle band have retreated further into organic textures. What is so staggering is that, in doing so, they seem to have managed to make work that seems genuinely otherworldly – and Shore is no exception. Whereas many of the acts propping up the same album of the year lists as 2011’s Helplessness Blues graduated onto diminishing returns, burnout, and the inevitable return to forms that never were (The Killers, Kings of Leon, The Strokes) – Fleet Foxes just, well, they just disappeared until they had something to say. And it’s very much the same story again here.
Ostensibly a Robin Pecknold solo album in all but name (though the record features a number of collaborators – including, for the first time, a number of guest vocalists), the music on Shore is a richly woven tapestry of largely-acoustic instrumentation. While there is nothing as jarring as Crack-Up‘s divisive opener ‘I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar’, the mood, sonic palette, and vaguely-prog flourishes remain. However, whereas the last LP was dense and proved somewhat impenetrable in places, the tone permeating Shore is considerably lighter. In some ways it feels closer in spirit to the kind of music the band were making on Sun Giant and their debut, albeit with well over a decade of lived experience and sophistication.
In terms of picking highlights, it’s a difficult task, but the sparse ‘I’m Not My Season’, the cacophonous and climactic ‘Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman’, and the closing title track keep returning to me. Not that it matters – as with their previous work, if you’re listening to Shore it’s highly likely that you’re starting at the beginning and staying for the entire fifty-five minutes of life-affirming melody, intricate acoustic guitar, piano, brass, woodwind, strings, and Brian Wilson-esque harmonies. I don’t know what else to add really. Shore is sublime and, according to Pecknold, there should be a fifth (full band) record following it into the world sometime soon.