At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fleet Foxes’ leader Robin Pecknold was experiencing a creative standstill.
Fragments of a new Fleet Foxes project were being labored on, but there were no vocals or lyrics. “I wasn’t being creative at all,” he told Rolling Stone. “There were some dark weeks where I would end up waking up at 7 or 8 p.m. and stay up until noon. The world just seemed like it was more sane at night.”
The Seattle veterans have been releasing music since the mid 2000s and with each subsequent release, they have continued to evolve and explore new themes and musical avenues. Sun Giant and the 2008 self-titled record both showcased Robin and co. at their most rustic and youthful. The music was bright-eyed, adventurous, and most importantly, hopeful. Unlike any other band, Fleet Foxes have a real talent for breathing life into whatever sound they venture towards.
Songs like “Sun It Rises” and “Ragged Wood” were these inviting baroque/folk tunes that anyone of any age or music taste could enjoy. The band’s sound was lush and full of unforgettable musical passages. Namely, the opening to “He Doesn’t Know Why.”
Fleet Foxes were making songs with open arms and allowing any to join in to embrace them. At a time where hope and change were seemingly on the horizon, Fleet Foxes became the soundtrack for that transition.
Helplessness Blues saw the band pivot into an introspective lane with Fleet Foxes diving into existential matters like time and age. This felt like a modern-day coming-of-age tale from a band that was still figuring themselves out, just as many of us are. Crack-Up, the album that concluded a 5-year hiatus, was larger-than-life. It encompassed plenty of the themes from Helplessness Blues, while adventuring out sonically into new pastures.
For more than a decade, Fleet Foxes have put out music that is ever-present, but simultaneously timeless. Even then, Shore might be the most present that Fleet Foxes has ever gotten. Released as a surprise on the first day of autumn, Shore is undoubtedly the most necessary album to be released this whole year. Pecknold described it as a, “life-preserver in this ocean of bad news.” Getting to this point was no small feat.
After a series of creative roadblocks and exhaustion, Fleet Foxes deliver some of their best work yet. Shore feels like an oasis in a seemingly never-ending desert. It is, frankly, what the world needs right now.
On Shore, Robin sounds reinvigorated and ready to lead a new path forward in his life. From the moment that “Wading in Waist-High Water” begins, a rush of warmth will wash over you. This opener predominately highlights the stellar voice of Uwade Akhere, a new singer who Pecknold discovered online.
His voice accompanies Akhere’s soft, heartwarming delivery and the end result is nothing short of masterful. The crescendo that leads into “Sunblind” is one of the best moments on the record as a whole. Many of the tracks on Shore feature these explosive highs that radiate with a sense of passion.
Fleet Foxes’ blend of harmony-focused folk and baroque pop is at peak form on Shore. The aforementioned “Sunblind” is an immediate highlight and will immediately put a smile on your face. Pecknold’s voice soars over the sun-drenched guitars and punchy drums.
Much of the intricate detail that appeared on Crack-Up is present on Shore as well. However, where that album sacrificed accessibility for complex melodies and song structures, Shore aims for something more tactile. Many of the instrumental flourishes that bolstered Crack-Up work just as well, if not better on Shore.
Robin Pecknold grows into himself on Shore. Whereas Helplessness Blues and Crack-Up were wrought with feelings of despair and grief, Shore has this newfound sense of self-love and acceptance. “Young Man’s Game” is a beautiful moment where Pecknold discusses the posturing that comes with being young and naïve.
I could worry through each night
Find something unique to say
I could pass as erudite
But it’s a young man’s game“Young Man’s Game”
We’re so caught up in how to live each day rather than just experiencing it, he argues on this track. This is a far cry from the title track of Helplessness Blues, where Pecknold is lamenting individualism and the struggles that come with discovering one’s own identity.
“I’m Not My Season” sees the 34-year old uses sailing as a motif to explore how people can feel trapped by their circumstances. It is refreshing to hear these messages, especially given how fragile the world is currently. Pecknold sounds like someone who has taken life’s bruises and came out of the fight with a new perspective.
With age comes experience and, hopefully, maturity. Shore is an album about the growth of individuals and how we should progress in times of hardship. Each song feels like a warm blanket that rests over you. The way that Fleet Foxes are able to conjure up such emotion, especially given the circumstances surrounding the time we’re in, is a wonder to behold.