If you’ve kept up with Fleet Foxes since their charming 2008’s self-titled debut—a modern staple in chamber pop—you have witnessed their gracious transition from traditional folk pop to a more artistic and experimental approach to acoustic music. Their sophomore record Helplessness Blues, showed us a darker and more profound side to the band, and these somber and personal themes are further explored and perfected on their third album, Crack-Up, their first in six years.
On their latest album, Fleet Foxes still don’t sound like any other band. Technically, they do employ the same traditions and methods of any modern folk band, loyally using acoustic instruments to create an overall warm sound. The difference is that they are not trying to be a “folk band” or any other kind of band. Their methods are anything but traditional. One might go into this album expecting another modern folk record, and be caught off guard by the experimental and explorative current which flows throughout the record.
Many of the songs on Crack-Up are expository rather than explanatory. It is almost visual in its sonic detail. Carefully woven layers of atmospheric details call for careful listening. The distant pianos on “Kept Woman” and “If You Need to Keep Time on Me,” the tense ascending violins on the last minute of “Cassius”, the delicate vocals on tracks like “I Should See Memphis” and “I Am All That I Need”—these all flatter and perfectly uplift the songs to an almost transcendental level.
The eclectic arrangements of sounds on the album flawlessly blend into one another, with each track becoming a puzzle piece in the big picture. Listening to just a couple of songs off the album does no harm, but this is an album made to be listened to as a whole. It’s an intricate and intimate work not made for the impatient, and lead single “Third of May” is a prime example of this, slowly submerging the listener into an ocean of mellow and soothing sounds. Clearly, Crack -Up was not made with music bloggers or quick consumers in mind. Perhaps that is why it may feel out of time, because it is beyond it.
The difference between Crack-Up and Helplessness Blues is clear. Both the arrangements and writing on Crack-Up are far less romantic than that of its predecessor. The arrangements here hover over the songs like a dark grey cloud, offering momentum and tension.
Much like they did when they released Helplessness Blues after their amazing debut, Fleet Foxes have created a rewarding album that explores new ground without abandoning what made them so special the first time around. This progression has allowed them to make listeners gradually more patient at digesting their music, and is what has made Fleet Foxes one of the most important alternative bands of our time.
By Patricia Cardenas