An immaculately crafted and refreshingly bright celebration of life and nature.
"I wanted to make an album that celebrated life in the face of death... I wanted the album to exist in a liminal space outside of time, inhabiting both the future and the past, accessing something spiritual or personal that is untouchable by whatever the state of the world may be at a given moment, whatever our season."
The mission statement that accompanied Shore's release last week carried an undeniably beautiful if wildly ambitious sentiment, one which would require an artist of considerable power to pull off a work of such calibre. Fortunately for us, Robin Pecknold is such a songwriter, and Shore is another wondrous gem of a record to add to Fleet Foxes' already astounding portfolio.
In a move almost comically apropos of its creators, Shore was released this past Tuesday at exactly 13:31 GMT to coincide with the Autumnal equinox, and as such it's a work that is deeply rooted in nature and the changing of the seasons. Fleet Foxes' fourth album follows headier records in 2011's Helplessness Blues and 2017's Crack Up, and while both albums (particularly the former) stand as undoubted milestones in modern folk, Shore is a remarkably fresh breath of air in their wake. Gone is the complexity and density of the band's recent work, replaced by the most joyous songs that Pecknold and company have written since their self titled 2008 debut, with which Shore shares its earthy folk vibes and sunny disposition. In fact, despite its prevalent Autumnal theme, there is a strong element of Indian summer to Shore, with the lazy sun and unseasonably warm air that hangs over its delicate compositions. Welcoming listeners in with the seamless one-two transition of 'Wading in Waist-High Water' into 'Sunblind', we are first greeted by the tender vocals of the hitherto unknown young singer Uwade Akhere (whom Pecknold discovered after being sent a clip of the 21 year old signing 'Mykonos') over an impossibly softly strummed acoustic guitar before being bathed in the warm American water of 'Sunblind' as Pecknold pays loving tribute to a whole host of influences including Nick Drake, Elliott Smith and Richard Swift on a stunningly vibrant ode in their honor.
The early standouts continue with strong single material in 'Can I Believe You''s dreamy refrain and the groovy folk-pop of 'Jara' (itself a tribute to another Pecknold idol in Chilean songwriter Victor Jara), while midway through the tracklist, the 70s inspired country throwback of 'Young Man's Game' is a reminder of Fleet Foxes' incomparable gift for vocal harmonies - it's also perhaps the straight up catchiest track among these fifteen. 'I'm Not My Season' finds time to wade into the quiet, graceful contemplation that birthed Helplessness Blues, with its searching lyricism and gorgeously understated vocal delivery.
Later comes the album's most overt experiment (and longest track) in the penultimate 'Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman'. Heavily layered and overdubbed with snippets from Beach Boys 'Don't Talk', here Pecknold reflects perhaps on his writers block anxiety prior to Shore and the resulting comfort and perspective that the circumstances of the pandemic gave him which allowed him to finish the album. Just as 'Wading in Waist-High Water' greets us at the end of summer with its opening line, the gentle piano of epilogue 'Shore' bids us farewell as the quarter moon comes out, or the Autumnal equinox begins, ending its namesake in satisfyingly cohesive style.
Pecknold described this record as a feeling of relief, and long time fans will hopefully relate to that sense of exhale at the conclusion of Shore, with its refreshingly bright spirit making for Fleet Foxes' easiest listen in years. It's true to say that Shore might not capture of the depth and complexity of the band's sophomore masterpiece, but it's not searching for that level of profundity. The peaceful sound of Shore is so effortlessly enjoyable to wade in that the intricacies of its sublime songcraft and evocative imagery can go undetected, but its artists' reliably stunning quality of musicianship is ever present. Typically immaculate in its conception and craft, Fleet Foxes' timeless celebration of life and nature is a perfectly timed triumph.
8.0 / B+
Best Tracks: 'Sunblind'/'Can I Believe You'/'Jara'/'Young Man's Game'/'I'm Not My Season'
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