2020 – Folk
On their beautiful fourth album, the American band Fleet Foxes, led by composer and singer Robin Pecknold, reaches its highest point: sharp and intimate compositions with a sound that acts like a welcoming and cozy atmosphere.
In 2017, Robin Pecknold, the lead singer of the band founded in Seattle by 20-year-olds, Fleet Foxes, suffered a traumatic almost death experience. Pecknold — who, although he didn’t reveal his age at the beginning of his career, always showed himself to be a timeless adult in his songwriting and vocals — was surfing in California when a strong current caught him. He said in an interview to EXCLAIM! that, after he was hit, he struggled to get to the beach and, in the process, he really thought he was going to die. Fortunately, he reached the sand, which he said was a great relief and a joy that made him feel a unique vibration. Inspired by this, Shore, the fourth studio album by the American band Fleet Foxes, is full of energy, vibrations, reflections and maturations, thus becoming, possibly, their best and most intimate album.
Being the album that most distances itself from the band’s other works, Shore delivers a complete, immersive and inspiring energy experience. Abandoning the exuberance of baroque sounds and lyrics — or as they called it, “baroque harmonic pop jams,” — the band’s fourth album, and the first since 2017’s Crack-Up, delivers diverse songs that are not limited within their own lines, thus delivering a deep, intimate and unique experience that can be felt in the most complete way even by those who do not know the band in depth. With poetic and well-written lyrics that bring together experiences, memories, desires, regrets and longings and a sound that does not strive for be something great, but that becomes something special and memorable for its simplicity, Shore is established not only as an album, but also as a hypnotic and deep story and testimony of growth and life.
In addition to the several points that differentiate Shore from other Fleet Foxes albums, another great positive and impressive factor is how the album does not act on you as something immediate, but as something that requires time and patience to be fully absorbed and understood. However, still, the best feature is that, at various times, it looks like the album is being built right when you hear it, and not something that was planned in advance or that was recorded in a studio. Everything on Shore appears easily and naturally, exists in a familiar way and disappears as something that should go away for a greater good. Of course, the album lacks the dexterity of 2008’s Fleet Foxes, or the loneliness of 2011’s Helplessness Blues or even the conflicts of Crack-UP, however, this does not prevent the album from arriving in a cohesive and consistent way, gently screaming its emotions and inviting the listener to participate in something he had never seen in in another Fleet Foxes project.
Shore‘s best songs are those that carry an energy that catches you — once you’ve heard them you can’t live without them. The best example of this can be found in the best song on the album, “Young Man’s Game,” which has beautiful and striking vocals, very fun instrumental and lyrics that, despite sounding complex, come to your mind in a naturalized way. In this track, Pecknold debates age and old age with vivid images that look like a dream. However, the highest point is when he sings, “But it’s a young man’s game,” where he delivers a beautiful, memorable and very nice vocal. Likewise, “Maestranza” makes the energetic instruments act as elements of nature and mix it with the sounds of birds that coordinate the track. It is in these moments that Shore‘s production proves to be unique in that it manages to make all the details sound naturally. However, sharp production isn’t limited to that since more down-to-earth tracks, like “For a Week or Two,” also sound just right.
In addition, Shore has one of the most intimate songs that Fleet Foxes has ever released. “Can I Believe You” is an illusionist track: at first it looks like a simple and light track about relationships, however, when analyzed in a deeper way, it is concluded that Pecknold’s mind is divided into two parts and one begins to question the other, “Can I believe you?” However, the track goes further. While vocals sound religiously at first and guitars play loose chords, he works on depression, anxiety and other mental disorders. The strongest point of all this is the way he worked it all, not needing something exposed, but true. Still talking about psychological ghosts, “I’m Not My Season” shows Pecknold next to a serene guitar painting him and a friend who are struggling to get out of winter. He repeats over and over, “And I’m not the season I’m in.” Pecknold never sounded so responsible and intimate like that.
In a way never seen before, Pecknold also looks at life as an even greater affection. In “Sunblind,” the second track on the album, Pecknold sings with lower chords about the great singers who have passed away — to quote, Richard Swift, Elliott Smith and Ian Curtis. He begins, “For Richard Swift/For John and Bill,” and then completes, “Judee and Smith/For Berman too.” However, not only staying on that, the track, in short, is also about keeping people alive in your memory. Likewise, “Maestranza” and “Quiet Air/Gioia” also have these characteristics: everything tells Pecknold to succumb to evil, but he replies, “I never want to die, I never want to die.” It is in these tracks that the vocalist’s near-death experience becomes clearer and how it influenced his vision from then on.
However, it would be a lie to say that Pecknold got everything right on Shore. The weakest tracks on the album are not the ones that are bad or seem disconnected, but those that seem unnecessary within the whole context, acting only as fillers. Even though “Thymia” has very striking and stylized vocals by Pecknold, it is still an irrelevant and forgettable point. In the same way — with a feeling of taking its borders further — while “Going-to-the-Sun Road,” with vocals by Brazilian singer Tim Bernardes, strives to talk about following a path out of the dark in a different way but ends up delivering something not so interesting, “Quiet Air/Gioia” has interesting lines but the relatively weak sound ends up overshadowing the rest. Lastly, even though “Featherweight” sounds like a beautiful acoustic, its position on the album ended up not favoring it at all. Of course, they are not bad tracks, on the contrary, but still, they ended up being the excess here.
Fortunately, those points don’t matter so much and it can’t make Shore not great. From the vocals — from the beautiful ones by Pecknold to the deep ones by Uwade Akhere in the opener, “Wading in Waist-High Water,” and the striking ones by Meara O’Reilly in “Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman,” which also has samples of Brian Wilson — to the deep, well-written and well-structured compositions — the reference to a Chilean singer in “Jara” and liberating “A Long Way Past the Past” — Shore delivers everything in grandeur. In the last song, the title track of the album, he returns to mourning while blurry beats and a piano playing in the background. He sings, “Afraid of the empty/But too safe on the shore,” and ends, “Now the quarter moon is out.” Now, it’s like we can all finally breathe freely and without fear.