“To record, one must be unwary.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up.
This March, Fleet Foxes released an eight-minute epic, “Third of May/ Ōdaigahara,” ending the six-year hiatus that followed the band’s sophomore LP. As the first single teasing Crack-Up, “May” was released without pageantry or manufactured hype. In fact, if you haven’t been paying particularly close attention, you may have missed the release altogether. One might think, following such an extended break from releasing music, that a band with the stature and respect that Fleet Foxes garnered from their first two records, would attempt to re-enter the musical conversation of the day with a raucous, impossible to ignore interruption. Instead, Robin Pecknold gently delivered an intricately layered piece of non-traditional songwriting as Fleet Foxes’ reintroduction to listeners.
In many ways, “May” was a perfect taste of what Fleet Foxes have delivered in Crack-Up’s 11 tracks. In writing the record, Pecknold intended to deviate from structures of modern pop music, not begging for attention or attempting to be the voice and face of a singular human experience. Crack-Up is full of vocal harmonies, strummed guitar chords, and echoing melodies, characteristic of earlier Fleet Foxes work. But where the band’s previous albums felt easily consumable, almost saccharine at times, Crack-Up is a harder piece of art to digest. Melodies descend into dissonant arrangement. Tracks stop and change course without warning. Pecknold’s lyrics are layered deeply into the musical arrangement and are at times difficult to separate from the engulfing instrumentation that surrounds them. Though perhaps not as comfortable as 2011’s Helplessness Blues and 2008’s Fleet Foxes, Crack-Up is intentional with it’s discord, and genuine in its writing.
Pecknold is intentional in his creation of something bitterly self-aware. Crack-Up is an inward journey into Pecknold’s psyche, his relationship with others, and his relationship with the rest of the world. It’s a journey comprised of howling winds, choppy waters, and cavernous structures devoid of sunlight. As a traveler set on this course, Pecknold confronts what might be uncertain without apprehension, tackling the path ahead with an unwary demeanor. It contains unexpected mishaps and breakdowns, but delivers you to the other side with a renewed and awakened consciousness. It’s a reflection of how many of us are navigating a troubling sociopolitical landscape, reconciling childhood conceptions of grandeur with the often bleak nature of reality, and accepting our place within a larger schema of existence.