(Album Review) Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

In the Spring of 2014, Fleet Foxes’ singer and chief songwriter Robin Pecknold revealed via Facebook that he was temporarily leaving the indie folk band to pursue an undergraduate degree at Columbia University. The news came after a tour in support of the band’s critically acclaimed second album Helplessness Blues—the creation of which was fraught with much difficulty, including the departure of drummer Josh Tillman who would soon garner solo fame under the moniker, Father John Misty. The future of the band seemed murky, at best. Then, just over two years later, Pecknold revealed via Facebook that the band was almost finished recording a new album (a rumor that the album would consist of contributions from multiple drummers was confirmed just prior to Pecknold’s announcement). Crack-Up, released in the early Summer of 2017 (six years after Helplessness Blues), is Fleet Foxes’ best album to date.

In an extensive interview with Pitchfork regarding the album, Pecknold disclosed that Crack-Up is “lyrically, sonically, and sequentially thematic.” According to Pecknold, an essay of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald was the primary inspiration for the album.

As told to Pitchfork,

There are themes in the essay that come up a lot on the album, both lyrically and musically…[T}he necessity of holding two opposing thoughts in one’s mind at once…I’ve struggled at times with finding a solid, objective reason to live…[s]o that has meant coming around to making my own meaning, and finding meaning in connection to other people.” Pecknold, known for his poignant lyricism, explains this observation of the human dynamic as an “I can’t go on/I must go on sense.

This idea is prevalent on the record. The violence versus serenity of the ocean is evoked figuratively in the lyrics, and implicitly in the sounds. It reveals itself in the dynamics of the opening track, a 3-part alt-folk opus that’s more “Paranoid Android” than “As told to Pitchfork, “…there are themes in the essay that come up a lot on the album, both lyrically and musically…[T}he necessity of holding two opposing thoughts in one’s mind at once…I’ve struggled at times with finding a solid, objective reason to live…[s]o that has meant coming around to making my own meaning, and finding meaning in connection to other people.” Pecknold, known for his poignant lyricism, explains this observation of the human dynamic as an “I can’t go on/I must go on sense.” This idea is prevalent on the record. The violence versus serenity of the ocean is evoked figuratively in the lyrics, and implicitly in the sounds. It reveals itself in the dynamics of the opening track, a 3-part alt-folk opus that’s more “Paranoid Android” than “

This idea is prevalent on the record. The violence versus serenity of the ocean is evoked figuratively in the lyrics, and implicitly in the sounds. It reveals itself in the dynamics of the opening track, a 3-part alt-folk opus that’s more “Paranoid Android” than “Blue Ridge Mountains” titled “I Am All that I Need/ Arrayo Seco/ Thumbprint Scar.” Its influence remains in the often jarring and goose-bump inducing modulations on songs like the freak-folk, Brian Wilson inspired “Cassius.” And the theme is established by the fifth track (first to be released) “Third of May/ Ōdaigahara.” The song has so many textural and tonal shifts between nearly cacophonous to endearingly euphonious that it’s almost overwhelming. Almost. An unexpected combination of chimes and delicate arpeggio at the end of the song creates peaceful cohesion and a sense of closure for the composition. The second half of Crack-Up, though still remarkable, seems to slow in terms of momentum. Intentional? Maybe. But if that’s the case, the effect is much less rewarding than what happens within the songs.

The second half of the record begins with the sixth track “Mearcstapa,” which I initially thought was an abbreviation that stands for (I shit you not), Monsters: the Experimental Association for the Research of Cryptozoology through Scholarly Theory and Practical Application. Luckily, Pecknold is not that kind of nerd. The term derives from the novel Beowulf. Mearcstapa could be considered a border wanderer—a perpetual explorer and in this case, an explorer of the sea (again, a recurring theme). The next track, “On Another Ocean (January/ June),” shifts between Pat Metheny and mid-tempo Real Estate territory. And the album sail’s calm waters until reaching the closing title track “Crack-Up.” “Crack-Up” reiterates Pecknold’s thesis statement. Pecknold sings, “I can tell you cracked like a china plate,” as gentleness is again met with aggression, and the realization that one cannot live without the other is cemented. A horn section guides the music to a crescendo crest and crashes onto shore. A distant patter of feet, perhaps exiting a docked ship, closes the album.

Stand out track: “: Kept Woman”: For the traditional Fleet Foxes fan, this song is a sister to “Tiger Mountain Peasant.” Bring tissues.