Not a moment too soon, indie-rocking folk auteurs Fleet Foxes have returned, or more accurately, Robin Pecknold has. The band’s projects have most often been a display of Pecknold’s personal and artistic growth, though this is the least linear progression yet in a relative sense. “Shore” is an explosive testament to his journey to emotional contentment, and feels more honest and open-handed than any Fleet Foxes release to date.
Fleet Foxes held their cards close to their chest in the six years between their sophomore opus “Helplessness Blues” and the somewhat more adventurous “Crack Up.” For that reason, the mere three years between the latter and this latest release feel as though they’ve flown by. Pecknold's new album is far more distant in aesthetic and feel than “Crack Up” was, however. This record is as much a thesis as it is art. Tacit themes of positivity and emotional liberation fill out the musical passages of the album’s 15 tracks — passages which, in comparison to past endeavors, feel somewhat minimal or perhaps simply more refined.
The tracklist opens up with the motif-driven “Wading In Waist-High Water,” most notable for the fact that it lacks the Fleet Foxes most immediate defining feature: Robin Pecknold’s voice. The guest vocalist is spectacular in her recontextualizing of Pecknold’s lyric and melody, and the track almost feels like a theatrical set piece introducing the oncoming track, “Sunblind,” which is arguably the most effortlessly gripping track of the bunch. In the first handful of lines he delivers on “Shore,” Pecknold memorializes artists such as John Prine and Elliott Smith, as well as Silver Jews frontman David Berman, whose name reappears deeper into the tracklist. The song’s early placement on the tracklist makes it read something like the dedication to a book, which only serves to bolster the impact of the album’s hopeful message.
The mid-tempo pop rock of “Can I Believe You?” somewhat belies its message of internal struggle with depression and anxiety, but there are few complaints to be had given the performance and composition Pecknold brought forth. The story Pecknold is telling here on “Shore” — a tale of remembrance and hope — picks back up on “Jara,” named for a late Chilean folk singer murdered by his country’s regime. Though the reference is potent, the true impact lies in its reflection today. Pecknold has spoken in interviews about the influence that current civil rights activism has had on his worldview, and it’s that apocalyptic take on the world that this album brushes up against in its persistent optimism.
“Featherweight,” on the other hand, is the first song that feels like true-blooded Fleet Foxes fare, with minor key piano slipping you into the mythos of the track. “May the last long year be forgotten,” Pecknold sings in what feels like a line putting to rest the common sentiment that the maladies of society lie within the temporal confines of the earth’s path around the sun. From here the tracklist flows into several more cerebral tracks with vibrant vocal performances over gentle instrumentals, the true essence of Fleet Foxes.
The two final tracks are equally show stopping, if in diverse ways. “Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman,” samples Brian Wilson and pulls together a carefully woven trek through the emotions of a maternal relationship. “I know how all this ends / palm over my receiver / cradling me again” perfectly puts this message into words. The eponymous “Shore,” however, manages to tie together the most ephemeral aspects of the album’s writing. From the line “kin of my kin” to the final, tender moments of the song, Pecknold keeps a celestial spirit — one that both embodies and enhances the spirit of the song and the album as a whole.