I swear, me waiting for a new Fleet Foxes album has turned into a sort of “when will my husband return from war” situation. It’s been about six years since Helplessness Blues, and while that’s not quite as bad as the wait for some artists (insert obligatory Tool reference), it still feels like it’s been forever since we last got a taste of those sweet vocal harmonies and lush instrumentation. Despite my frustration, it seems as if the wait really was necessary for the type of album the band deliver with Crack-Up.
I first got a whiff of the epic scope of Crack-Up back in March when the band released as the lead single the nearly ten minute multi-movement suite “Third of May / Ōdaigahara”, full of broad changes in dynamics and texture, delivering everything from soaring folk-rock to experimental ambience that vaguely carried the air of traditional Japanese music.
As it turns out, this single was a good indication of what was to come. Listening to this album is like journeying across the country on foot, taking in everything you can.
Out of all of Fleet Foxes’ releases, Crack-Up is perhaps their most naturalistic. Much of the instrumentation, to my ears, seems to emulate the sounds of nature, and for the most part the musical palette of this album is extremely evocative. This outdoorsy sound has always been a part of this band’s music, but it’s so much richer here than it’s ever been before. I mean it when I say that there are several moments on this record that will take your breath away. In particular, the transition between “Kept Woman” and “Third of May” is absolutely transcendent, along with the burst of scattered horns that forms the climax of the title track.
This increasing ambition of this band with every release is part of what makes me so enamored with Fleet Foxes. It seems as if, through no real conscious decision, they’ve evolved into a brand of grandiose progressive folk that’s extremely refreshing in an age of frustratingly minimalist indie boredom. The progressive rock influence on Crack-Up jumps way out into the forefront with some sparse moments of synth that creep up every once and awhile. You would think that these moments would clash with the dominance of acoustic instrumentation, but the way they’re incorporated is really clever in that they are tailored to fit the texture of the musical passages they inhabit. Another interesting prog influence shows up on “Fool’s Errand”, with it’s changing time signatures between the verse and chorus.
The only thing leading them towards the future is their desire to up the ante from their previous release. It sort of makes me wonder how much further they can take this sound before it oversaturates itself.
Beyond all of the gorgeous instrumentation, the standout element of the Fleet Foxes sound has always been the vocals. Robin Pecknold leads the charge in this department but is almost always backed up by several layers of harmony from the other members of the band. The resultant sound gives all the songs a shimmer that is basically the icing on this grandiose musical wedding cake.
Despite all my gushing, there is something that I should mention that may turn some listeners off. Crack-Up may disappoint you if you go in looking for individual standout songs. This is most definitely an album to be taken in as a whole. Like the aforementioned “Third of May”, several of the compositions here are constructed as multi-part suites as opposed to sticking to traditional verse-chorus song structures. The way the sequencing of the tracks affects other tracks is part of the structural brilliance of this record. In addition, some tracks directly segue into the next, making the symphonic nature of the project even more concrete.
I had high expectations for this album. After such a long wait, I started to worry that the album may fall flat due to my own hype and not due to any fault of the musical content itself. But even with the high hopes, I was blown away by just how brilliant the sounds contained within Crack-Up are. This comes with the highest of recommendations from me.