Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up
On a recent episode of PRX’s Sound Opinions, Damon Krukowski of Galaxie 500 and Damon & Naomi, talked about being more critical in our listening habits. He discussed the idea of what he called, “thick listening,” and about not only focusing on the signal, (voice, guitars, drums, trumpets, etc), but also the noise: sounds of the room, mistakes or other deep aspects of sound that the artist left in the final mix. By listening in this manner, we gain perspective and a wider contextual appreciation about how said music was created.
It is with this approach that Crack-Up, the first album of new material by Fleet Foxes in 6 years, deserves to be digested. On the first listen or two, it’s quite obvious that the band is pushing. Crack-Up is a daring, progressive and ultimately exploratory record that wonderfully expresses their penchant for early 70’s British folk, 60’s pop, modern classical experimentalists (Moondog, Partch) and Pacific NW indie rock. Even the spirit of Brian Eno resonates in the deep layers of songs like “If You Need To, Keep Time On Me” and “On Another Ocean.”
The record plays out like a seamless expression of mood that is less reliant on immediate song hooks and quick-fix melodies but rather a classic, psychedelic approach. Listen closer and hear the sound of doors shutting, twinkling chimes and grumbling vocalisms by Robin Pecknold on the opening track “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar.” You’ll hear an undercurrent of discordant piano, distant banjo and string overtones on “Mearcstapa,” and waves crashing amidst what sounds like digital error and fluttering synths on “Cassius.” And look for scores of sparse percussion, fragmented guitars and pianos and atmospheric backing vocals on lead cut, “Third Of May / Odaigahara.” There’s even a well-placed, straight up sample of Ethiopian legend Mulatu Astatke just prior to the staccato rhythms of “Fool’s Errand.”
This would all be simply interesting studio trickery and nothing more if the songs around it weren’t up to snuff. But they thankfully they are. The juxtaposition of the dizzying outro of “Cassius” into the stripped down “Naiads, Cassadies” is a beautiful cadence. Chaotic woodwinds and insistent drumming crash into a simple bass pattern, crystalline guitar and Pecknold asking “who stole the light from you, who turned you so against you?”
Fleet Foxes have always been known for their multi-part vocals and those are in full-bloom throughout. “Third Of May / Odaigahara” features buoyant vocals by Pecknold and multi-instrumentalists Christian Wargo and Casey Wescott, while executing complex harmonies throughout its continuous movements. And “Mearcstapa” intersperses weighty and slightly unsettled vocals amidst the seaworthy instrumental passages populated by untreated electric guitars, Fender Rhodes and brass disharmony.
What does this all add up to? A constantly rewarding and fearless record by Fleet Foxes. The sonic construction alone is a dazzling achievement but taken in as a whole, we’re left feeling audibly nurtured by the deep resonance and spirit of Crack-Up. And as time is spent with it, I would not be surprised if this becomes the modern day equivalent of Pet Sounds. It feels that impactful. (Dom)
Check out a track here.