Indie rock band Fleet Foxes return with a demanding, yet rewarding comeback album, ‘Crack-Up,’ following a six-year hiatus.
A lot changes in that amount of time but for Robin Pecknold, Skyler Skjelset, and company, it pays off. Crack-Up, the third studio album by the band, is a demanding listen, but ultimately, it proves to be a truly rewarding, comeback album.
“I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar”
“I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar” commences Crack-Up ambitiously. Instantly, the listener is immersed into complexity. “I Am All That I Need” is sung indulgently, in an undertone. On “Thumbprint Scar,” the vocals are more exuberant, backed by forte, folksy production work, led by guitar. Give it a couple of listens, it’s a gem. “Cassius, -” is filled with numerous historical and social references. Such references include the protests surrounding the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the death of Muhammad Ali. It’s more accessible than the opener, but still complex.
“- Naiads, Cassadies” is more accessible, but doesn’t lose its poetic identity. Fleet Foxes take on female empowerment, regarding relationships. The radiant “Kept Woman” proves to be superb follow-up, keeping the album connected as a whole. Anna, the protagonist, is representative women who sell themselves short as whole. Additionally, the male narrator, represents the aloofness exhibited by men.
“Third of May / Ōdaigahara”
The crème de la crème arrives with “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” in its glorious nine-minute duration. Epic, decoding the lyrics is quite challenging. Frontman Robin Pecknold brilliantly incorporates homophones, coincidences, and various dates. The music is equally genius, shifting from major to minor, and incorporating Japanese music at the end, representative of Ōdaigahara.
“If You Need To, Keep Time on Me” is simpler, but quite superb. A particular date provides insight on the concept: January 20, 2017 (President Donald J. Trump). Pecknold sings:
“How could it all fall in one day? / Were we too sure of the sun?”
So, what exactly does “Mearcstapa” mean? It is an old English word that translates to marsh stalker. This particular song is named after a Grendel from Beowulf. Pecknold focuses on the marsh stalker in the context of the sea. The wordplay is notable. Wordplay and poetry thrive once more on “On Another Ocean (January / June),” where the ocean remains integral to the concept. Set in January initially, later it becomes June. Matching the change of date, the lyrics change as well. Notably, the song closes with a sample of Mulatu Astatke performing “Terzeta.”
“Fool’s Errand” gives Crack-Up another highlight that is quite approachable. The song is lovely, particularly the lead vocals by Pecknold. The closing stands out in particular. Near the four-minute mark, there are chilling, a cappella vocal harmonies. An enigmatic piano concludes the song. Pecknold sings tenderly, in an undertone on “I Should See Memphis.” Despite the gentle nature of his pipes, the orchestration keeps the momentum strong. “Crack-Up” concludes the effort intriguingly. Highlights include the exuberance as well as the horn orchestration.
All in all, Fleet Foxes craft a gem with Crack-Up, which ranks among the best albums of 2017. Furthermore, this effort was worth the six-year gap between it and Helplessness Blues. It’s challenging, but worthwhile after a couple of listens.
NOTE: For the full-fledged analysis of Crack-Up, check out Fleet Foxes, Crack-Up | Album Review on The Musical Hype, published on June 22, 2017.
Gems: “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar,” “Kept Woman,” “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” “If You Need To, Keep Time on Me” & “Fool’s Errand”