Pecknold and Co celebrate life and music in a time of plague and chaos on Shore; the new album from Fleet Foxes.
Release Date: 22nd September 2020
Formats: Digital / LP / CD (Physical formats from February 2021)
Well – it’s here, at least in download format… Those hoping for a physical product – CD or vinyl album – will have a little longer to wait, until February next year, in fact. But those of you who, like me, have been eagerly awaiting this long overdue next installment in the Fleet Foxes story will, no doubt, bridge that gap with the download version of their fascinating new album, Shore.
If you’re familiar with the Fleet Foxes sound, and I can’t imagine that there are many At The Barrier regulars who aren’t, then Shore will fulfill your expectations with regard to formula and musicality but will offer sufficient differences and advancements to renew your interest. If, however, Fleet Foxes are new to you, then brace yourself for an assault on your senses.
A detailed scrutiny reveals parallels and influences from Surfs Up period Beach Boys, similarities with The Zombies at their Odessey and Oracle zenith and smatterings of The Beatles at their most experimental, but mainly their sound is entirely their own, simultaneously ordered and anarchic, acoustic and electrifying, folky, jazzy, funky and poppy. Does that help?
By way of overview, Shore is significantly less immediate than either their eponymous debut album or its follow-up, Helplessness Blues, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As I listened to the album, I found that my impulse to make comparisons with Fleet Foxes’ previous work fell away as I was increasingly absorbed by the new music. There are no obvious “standout” tracks like Oliver James here – Shore is a cohesive piece of work with much segueing between tracks and is clearly intended to be heard in that way.
The album has been in the incubator for a long time. Work started, variously in Hudson (NY), Paris, Los Angeles, Long Island and New York City in September 2018 and was completed earlier this month. In a press statement, band frontman Robin Pecknold has described the anguish that this long gestation period has caused him but, perversely, the current world situation (which he eloquently describes as …a pandemic spiralling out of control, living in a failed state, watching and participating in a rash of protests against systematic injustice…) has helped to quell his insecurities, place the need to complete this album into perspective and realise the importance of music, and particularly high-quality music, to our collective well-being.
And what high-quality music this is! Listening to Shore is a dreamlike experience; there’s all the space, sparse instrumentation and tight vocal harmonies that we’ve come to expect from Fleet Foxes. There are also copious servings of leftfield electronic embellishments (is that a theremin I can detect in the background of the title track?) there are lashings of psychedelia, particularly on Going-to-the-Sun Road, Thymia and Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman and, on Maestranza, the mood gets almost funky.
Those hoping for further helpings of Sun it Rises or White Winter Hymnal (just two of the tracks from the Fleet Foxes debut album that snared worldwide attention) haven’t been neglected though… Sunblind, Jara, Featherweight and For a Week or Two carry on the Fleet Foxes tradition to splendid effect – I found that my notes were littered with the word “dreamlike” when I came to try and summarise my thoughts, and “dreamlike” is a very Fleet Foxes state of mind!
I’ve already noted that Shore is an album that should be listened to as a cohesive piece of work. However, I must draw attention to the title track, which closes the album. Robin Pecknold’s inspiration for the album’s title comes from his recognition of a “shore” as a place of safety at the edge of something uncertain, a place to relish the adventure of the unknown whilst relishing the comfort of stable ground, and the title track brings these thoughts together in a sonic feast bursting with jangling piano notes, heavenly harmonized voices, scattered percussion and clashing cymbals which eventually subside to allow the song, and the album, to be ended with a single, extended piano note. A great ending to a great album.
Fans of Fleet Foxes won’t need any encouragement to seek out Shore. For anyone considering joining that particular throng I say – give it a listen, then seek out their other three albums. You’ll be pleased you did…!
Watch Fleet Foxes official video for Featherweight from the album below.