Published Sep 25, 2020Fleet Foxes are, in the grand scheme of things, still a relatively young band — it's been 12 years since their self-titled debut found them at the fore of the indie folk revival, and they've only released three albums since, including this week's surprise Shore. But they're definitely no longer new and certainly no longer trendsetters — such is the case with how quickly the tides turn. And Shore, their most ebullient record to date, finds them at peace with the idea of aging and the legacy that's already begun to form around them.
After two albums of dense, knotted song structures and complex instrumentals — 2011's moody Helplessness Blues and 2017's gnarled, prog-adjacent Crack-Up — Fleet Foxes return to the straightforward arrangements of their debut, but having swapped out the pastoral folk for the brawniest rock sounds of their career. Shore is a return to the band's roots, but with a potent acknowledgment that much has changed in the interim — like visiting your hometown and wandering around the streets, taking in all the familiar sights, sounds and smells while pointing out all the differences. A new development here, a long-shuttered favourite store there.
Change, memory and nostalgia are fresh in Robin Pecknold's mind. Fleet Foxes' dependable bandleader sounds finally settled in his own skin, content with his accomplishments and unencumbered by expectations. Second track "Sunblind" invokes the names of deceased music heroes, from Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding to Richard Swift and David Berman, as Pecknold grapples with the legacies of his heroes alongside the subtext of his own — how will he, and Fleet Foxes, be remembered in the decades to come? It's not that doesn't seem to care, but rather that he's focusing on the human elements over the critical: "I'm going out for a weekend / I'm gonna borrow a Martin or Gibson / With Either/Or and The Hex for my Bookends." It sounds like the greatest compliment one could give him would be a namedrop in a song two decades from now.
For a band whose imagery since inception has been dominated by the natural world in stillness and chaos, the contemporary references are a sudden change of pace that thrusts Fleet Foxes firmly in today's world, instead of gathering berries on a hill in the countryside. The harmony-laden, folk meditations are present on tracks like "Quiet Air / Gioia" and "For a Week or Two" — the latter featuring lyrics like, "Piece of wheat / In your teeth / Carrying water, pears and bread," as if the band releasing the album timed to the autumn equinox wasn't on-brand enough — but Shore finds them exploring vaster range than before. No longer do they sound burdened by the need to commit to a particular mood; Pecknold sounds freer than ever to be himself.
Though Fleet Foxes certainly have no control over their mythology, Shore finds Pecknold letting the worries wash off of him. By rooting himself in the sounds and feelings of his most formative moments, he channels the jubilance of his early work without any of the anxiety and pressure. (Anti)