It has been a long time between drinks for fans of Seattle’s Fleet Foxes, with six years elapsing since the group released their sophomore album, Helplessness Blues. In mid-2013 the band posted on their Facebook page teasing potential progress towards a third record, but shortly thereafter they entered a semi-official hiatus, with founding member and creative driver, Robin Pecknold, announcing he was attending New York’s Columbia University to attain an undergraduate degree. After all that, Fleet Foxes have finally gotten around to releasing their third album, Crack-Up.
Pecknold’s time as an undergraduate is writ large across Crack-Up, with allusions to ancient-Greek river nymphs, Caesar’s assassination, and Egyptian mythology, peppering the song titles and lyrics. That is to say nothing of the compositional and musical experimentation that is displayed from the outset with the verbosely titled I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar, which starts in a sparse, amelodic fashion before a string swell bursts the song’s dense shroud to ground it in Fleet Foxes’ more conventional indie-folk stylings. An unsettling guitar riff makes for a compelling listen, and the track ebbs, flows, and breaks like a wave upon a rock, in an act of great – if disconcerting – control and release.
This tendency toward experimenting with composition extends to the structuring of the album itself, with the ’60 psyche-pop meets folk of Cassius, – abruptly ending during an intriguing outro, while the following track, – Naiads, Cassadies starts just as suddenly. The dash in both songs’ titles would seem to imply some sense of continuity, but any continuation exists in the interpretation of lyrics. The pleasant riffs, with the vocal layering and harmonies, of Kept Women are reminiscent of classic Simon and Garfunkel. At nearly nine minutes long, Third of May/Ōdaigahara was a bold choice as lead single, but the track’s upbeat tempo makes it fit for this purpose.
Those seeking more familiar sonic territory from Fleet Foxes are well served by If You Need to, Keep Time on Me, and nobody should pass up a chance to listen to the dreamy Mearcstapa, which aptly blends the unconventional with the easier going tones of pop-folk. Despite the term “crack-up” indicating some sort of breakdown or wreck – and indeed many of the songs and the album as a whole convey such a vibe – Crack-Up is remarkably compelling, maintaining a coherency despite – because of? – it’s drastic shifts.