“Shore” is the fourth studio album from indie/folk band Fleet Foxes and is a wonderful summation and natural progression of the band’s famous sound.
In 2008 Fleet Foxes released their debut eponymous album which featured their most well-known song, “White Winter Hymnal.” On “Fleet Foxes,” Robin Pecknold, the band’s lead singer-songwriter, establishes the band with a clearly defined folk aesthetic that features easy-to-sing melodies and an unmistakable acoustic instrumentation that continued into their second album, “Helplessness Blues.” “Crack-Up,” the band’s third album, was a major departure from usual form, exploring deep and complex harmonies, musical transitions, breakdowns and long-form tracking. Only eleven songs long, it sounds like a 55 minute orchestration.
Produced in partnership with Beatriz Artola, a Grammy-winning mixing engineer who worked with Pecknold on “Crack-Up,” the two managed to use the signature elements from the previous albums as stepping stones to a novel, but still loyal sound. Described as a “relieving, joyous, glad-to-be-alive kind of vibe,” this album pulls the approachable lyrics of “Fleet Foxes” and “Helplessness Blues” and stitches it together with the more complex instrumental layering from “Crack-Up.”
The opening track “Wading in Waist-High Water” is a prologue for the album, calling back to the soft vocal sounds and harmonies the band has become known for. This callback strengthens the impact that the second and arguably leading track, “Sunblind” arrives with. A guitar is picked over low drumming of strings before Pecknold lays down lyrics dedicated to his musical idols. The chorus dominates the song, begging listeners to shout “I’m gonna swim for a week in Warm American Water with dear friends.” The delivery of this line is so cathartic that it creates a through line for the rest of the album.
Another favorite is “Jara” because of its excited vocals and backing alongside the lyrics honoring Chilean activist/musician Victor Jara. “Now you’re off to Victor on his ladder to the sky” blasts through the song’s middle section and demands all the attention it deserves.
The album begins to slow down here, exploring more sonically complex arrangements and intimate sounds. “Featherweight” is reminiscent of a Sufjan Stevens’ song such as “Should have Known Better.” Both tracks feature light acoustic instrumentation while enhancing the vocals with a slight, melancholic reverb. “For A Week Or Two” also calls back to earlier Fleet Foxes work, such as the toned down elements of “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song.”
“I’m Not My Season” hits like an emotional gut punch around the album’s later half establishing a seasonal nostalgia that most can relate to. The chorus specifically declares this emotional labor, “Though I liked summer light on you, if we ride a winter-long wind, well time’s not what I belong to, and I’m not the season I’m in.”
Closing the album, the title track “Shore” quietly concludes this project. Pecknold’s vocals continue to slow down but remain rich and deep, mixing with a leading piano before introducing the low horns again. “Now the quarter moon is out” is repeated, quieter each time before the voices are gone and a piano resolves into one final C chord. The last sound heard on the album is Pecknold closing the lid of his piano.
While the album has only been out a short time, it has already established itself as a testament to Pecknold talent in moving songwriting, flexibility with genres and complex compositions. Songs like “Going-to-the-Sun Road” and “Thymia” carry the melancholy of transitioning from summer to fall, while “Can I Believe You” introduces a rock sound new to the band and fans alike.
Named after a surfing incident where Pecknold was pulled out to sea by a rip current, “Shore” manages to encapsulate the sheer relief he felt as he reached land. And just like Pecknold reaching the shore, this album itself tells us that while things may not currently be okay, you have to catch your breath, and everything will eventually get better.
Graphic by Nicolas Arango