Fleet Foxes. Even the name garners a sense of warmth and calm. I don’t know what “Fleet Foxes” is if it’s even anything at all. Honestly, I don’t care to know, ‘cause it doesn’t matter. Fleet Foxes is one of those bands that has to grow alongside me.
The band started when lead singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold was 20. I was in my Freshman year of college when “Sun Giant” came out. It was everything I wanted at that time, big and lush with lyrical gymnastics a-plenty. Constantly weaving piles of, at times, overly heavy nature imagery; I loved every second of it. As me and my indie-kid friends wormed our way through our college years, Fleet Foxes and then Helplessness Blues wormed along with us. Each one somehow growing and maturing as we attempted to do the same.
Fast forward to 2017. My wife and I had graduated college, gotten married, moved from Birmingham, AL to NYC, and had been living there for nearly four years. Amidst all of that, Fleet Foxes dropped Crack-Up. It had been over six years since the last record. It was immediately clear that the band had done plenty of living and growing during that time, as had all of us. That record hit me in a way that I don’t think any album had ever done for me. It allowed for zero comfortable nostalgia or disappointed grumblings of “the early stuff was better.” It was a new band. They retained many of the same players and Robin’s writing, but they had changed, and they allowed for that change to come through on the record. It is a masterpiece.
But here we are yet again. It’s only been a little over three years this time (but I think we can agree the past year has counted for at least double points), and the new Fleet Foxes record here. “Shore” has arrived.
The first track comes as a bit of shock because you won’t hear Robin’s voice from the top. “Wading in Waist-Higher Water” is led by the simple and deeply endearing voice of Uwade Akhare. Giving the top track to another artist is a really strange way to go, but as I will repeat many times throughout this review, I think we are seeing full-blown, grown-ass-man Robin Pecknold here. The track is a light and airy return to form in some ways. It’s heavily layered with heaps of vocal tracks while keeping the guitar simple and repetitive.
Uh oh, Robin n’ em are throwing medleys at us early on. “Wading in Waist-Higher Water” continues into “Sun Blind.” The feel picks up into a harder four-on-the-floor piano-heavy indie pop song, and Robin takes the reigns. The drums pick up, and thank God they do, because the drum sounds on “Shore” are phenomenal.
The medley continues softly. There is a leading tone that transitions into “Can I Believe You.”
There is a power to this track that almost feels like a different production could have made it a pop hit. It’s a very driving and focused track until about three quarters through. After an extended bridge, they hit you with the chorus one last time for good measure.
The beginning of “Jara” is the first hint towards an almost jazzy theme that is periodically sprinkled throughout “Shore.” A very short jumble of notes gives way to another upbeat track. The Foxes are really throwing heat so far. By the end of “Jara”, the band is really swingin’. You’ll love it.
Although “Featherweight” isn’t my favorite track on the record, it continues to pepper in these brief jazzy piano runs. Now, I am guessing here, but I would bet money that whoever is responsible for these piano runs has been playing a lot of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The piano leads on this track in particular are very reminiscent of the battle music from that game. Robin, if you’re reading, hit a brotha up and let me know if I’m right about that.
The big, upbeat feel continues with “A Long Way Past the Past.” Soaring horn parts and those fat ass drum sounds are back, baby. It really is a strong track with lots of energy.
“For a Week or Two” allows for a little sip of nostalgia for those stacked harmony tracks from the old days like, “Sun Giant” or “White Winter Hymnal.” The deep harmonies and lilting melody sort of stumble through the end of the chorus. I know stumble sounds negative, but trust me, it’s not. “For a Week or Two” dissolves into a quarter-beat drum and bird songs.
I wouldn’t exactly call it a medley, but “For a Week or Two” seamlessly transitions into “Maestranza” in a kind of theatrical, concept album way. “Maestranza” is full up with busy chord changes and modal shifts. It’s not my favorite thing, but they do it really smoothly, keeping the chord changes from getting overly distracting.
If they hadn’t done a surprise release for Shore, I think “Young Man’s Game” would have been the big single. It’s catchy. It’s big. It just feels good.
I could go on like this, track by track, but hopefully, this review has done enough to perk your ears up a little. There is still a good bit of the album left, and it continues to play to the themes they establish early on. Shore is a strong addition to the undefeated Fleet Foxes discography.
People change and grow. It’s what we do. It’s about the only thing we do consistently. The greatest artists are the ones who can continuously grow alongside us. Fleet Foxes is one of those artists.
If you like the songs, do the right thing and support the band, buy the record and if you can buy merchandise. We gotta take care of our artists during this time.