One thing Crack Up isn’t is easy listening. There’s no pop pretence or catchy singles. Fleet Foxes have never been drawn in by the mainstream. With their unruly beards and unusual influences, they always forged their own path. This album is so rich it’s difficult to even know where to begin. Perhaps it’s the influence of Robin Pecknold’s time at Columbia University in New York or simply the wisdom gained from taking a step back during their lengthy hiatus. Whatever it is, it’s given the band a whole different perspective.
The innocence of their self-titled debut is a thing of the distant past, and instead Pecknold’s songwriting is darkly introspective. Following the same vein of their second album, Helplessness Blues, Pecknold’s lyrics throw up massive questions about history, relationships, society and frankly, the meaning of life itself. Pecknold doesn’t shy away from controversy and instead explores massive issues analytically, probing for answers. ‘Cassius, -‘ depicts the protest after the police fatally shot Alton Sterling in Louisiana last year. The song reads like a melancholy poem with a bewildered narrator. It’s not so much proselytising but rather questioning. There’s no self-righteousness because Pecknold seems as stunned and confused as we are.
Musically, as well as lyrically, Fleet Foxes have become impossibly epic. With jarring harmonies, clashing chords and vast strings, it feels uncomfortable at times. The cacophony can sometimes be too much. But if you stick it out, the effect is endlessly rewarding. The dissonance gives rise to something so powerful it will make the hairs on your skin stand up. The record is cinematic in scope and with Pecknold’s crystal clear vocals atop, the sound is like a symphony of discontent. I’m drawn to it because of its peculiarity. It challenges you to readjust your ears, stop looking for something to latch on to and simply let the river of noise take you.
Ultimately, this album will surprise you. Fleet Foxes have taken their original ideas and embellished them with a myriad of influences, from classical to jazz to psychedelia. They’re no longer just a beefed up folk band. They have become such masters of their craft that genre itself doesn’t apply. I recommend listening with an open ear and possibly a tumbler of strong alcohol. The tone is hardly optimistic and the twists and turns of the arrangements will keep you constantly guessing. But stick with it, because I’m convinced Fleet Foxes will go down in history as outstanding musical innovators of their time.
[Picture source: https://www.jambase.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Fleet-Foxes-Press-2017]