It has been three years since Fleet Foxes’ last album, Crack-Up, transported us to their world of harmony both jaunty and soulful, but they have done it again in Shore. Through the whole of the album is an ebb and flow, a push and pull — we are embraced by familiar, lively refrains that bring to mind weekends, summers and car rides in the fresh air, and we are also met with more subdued pieces that reflect the troubled nature of the world at large, of facing the future and of hoping and doubting.
Shore opens in “Wading in Waist-High Water” with an acoustic quietness and an uncharacteristically smoothed-out sound, which grows to a crescendo, previewing the energy of the rest of the album. With cohesion that continues throughout, its final notes trail into the more instantly recognizable “Sunblind,” with the luster of lead singer and songwriter Robin Pecknold’s voice again taking center stage. “Sunblind” dwells on the theme of “going out for the weekend” with “dear friends,” namedropping many musical geniuses that have come and gone, such as John Prine and Elliott Smith. It feels like one of the highs of the album, as does the fervent “Can I Believe You?”
“Can I believe you,” Pecknold asks, “when you say I’m good?” — this sort of introspection saturates the album as he muses about themes of uncertainty and change. In “I’m Not My Season,” the assertion that, despite everything, “Well time’s not what I belong to / And I’m not the season I’m in” rings especially true in a year of pandemic and unrest, when it is easy to feel defined by all that is happening beyond one’s control.
The influence of quarantine on the album is sometimes apparent, but Shore refuses to be glum about it. Pecknold has said that he wanted the album to be a point of stability, “to celebrate life in a time of death.” Even when a song begins to sink into a quiet musing, or the lyrics align too closely with the dark, agitated reality of 2020, crowded sections of horns and piano will suddenly revive it with a sense of carrying on stronger — with a laugh, even. Crazed, delighted pieces like “Quiet Air / Gioia” keep our attention. The cheerful motif underlying “Jara” gets stuck in our heads. “Young Man’s Game” makes us smile with its self-aware irony, in “I’ve been solving for the meaning of life / No one tried before and likely I’m right.”
Shore manages to be a close-knit selection of music that at times reflects on heavy content, without being at all cold or heavy itself. It feels like a natural installment in Fleet Foxes’ musical repertoire, but goes off on its own as Pecknold explores new tonal landscapes and instruments that have not featured as prominently in previous work. While the tensions in the album, and in the time that it was written, rise and fall, Shore is a landmark, offering a lucid, stable point of reference that the weary voyager can return to again and again.
Charlotte Mandy is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].