There are little moments on every Fleet Foxes album — and if you’re reading this, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about — when the music ascends to a higher plane, and you feel it somewhere deep in your chest. Everything falls away, and you’re transported to some greater vista, your throat catches, and you’re floating, living the weird astral bookcase scene from Interstellar inside of your mind, your feet never catching earth, everything that weighs on you disappearing for seconds, minutes at a time. I talk, of course, of the final two minutes of “Blue Ridge Mountains,” the “whoooa whoooas” on “Montezuma,” the instrumental passages of “Lorelai,” that first beat of “Third of May,” the middle two minutes of “Crack-Up”... you know what I’m talking about. You don’t have to wait long to get to the first time that happens on Shore, the band’s new album: It happens exactly 1:05 into the album’s second track “Sunblind,” a song about taking albums with you like traveling partners in life, about death, and legacy, and how musical influences feel like deities you pray to, and how when you’re creating art you try to make something in the vision of your heroes but never intend to pass them. It’s a moment that feels like an escape, an ascendance, a prayer. And then that happens again, eight seconds into “Can I Believe You,” when the band kicks in, and then 57 seconds into “Featherweight” when Pecknold sings that he’s, “Been staging life as a battleground,” and again during the choruses of “Young Man’s Game.” Which is to say: In this awful, terrible, no good, very bad year, this Fleet Foxes album hits different, and it hits hard.
Recorded partially before COVID quarantine, and finished a bit over a month ago, Shore was surprise dropped last week to coincide with the autumn equinox, in what every Twitter jokester agreed was the most perfect pairing of a band with their brand. But jokes aside, the fall equinox is a fitting drop day for the sonics of Shore; it’s an album that feels like the big, broad chances and promise of summer closing in, and battening down for fall, an album that sounds like the tide rolling in, and the party slowing down to something more ruminative.
And that tide is often the act of aging; Pecknold is in his mid-30s now, no longer a young man, and not old; in a way, in the autumn transition of his life. The album’s thesis might as well be these lines from “Young Man’s Game”:
“I could worry through each night /
Find something unique to say /
I could pass as erudite /
But it’s a young man’s game.”
In there are thoughts on getting comfortable with yourself, trying to reinvent yourself for each phase of life (or album), how you can be self-centered in your self-perception, and realizing you’re past the point of caring. After years of over-thinking and trying to determine if he actually wanted to make music — which was the central theme of Crack-Up, in a lot of ways — Pecknold is finally comfortable enough with himself to admit he needs to let go and do him, which is something that only comes with the slow and agonizing process of aging. The erosion of aging also influences the themes of “Can I Believe You,” “For a Week or Two,” and “I’m Not My Season.” He started his career as a young man doing the most, and now he’s an elder statesman ready to see what’s next.
And what’s next is this sonically resonant, honed version of Fleet Foxes; the seven-minute suites and multiple tempo changes of Crack-Up give way to maybe the most straightforward album this band has ever made. It’s a rare case of an artist saying in interviews they just wanted to make music and put it out, and it being completely true. But that doesn’t mean everything here is like a punk album; it’s all heartbreakingly beautiful and orchestral, and like the Beach Boys living inside of one man’s brain. He even samples Brian Wilson’s studio talk on “Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman” to make that connection manifest.
New York magazine already called this the perfect album for this moment, and I’m not going to come up with any better way to tie this album to this extended depressive episode we’re all collectively living through. All I know is that in a week where we were reminded that there is no justice, and no peace, having a Fleet Foxes album to get lost in, in 55 minute intervals, felt like a gift. That that Fleet Foxes album is also the best the band’s made, and one that hits so thematically hard is almost piling on.