The aptly titled album “Shore” represents a coming home for Fleet Foxes’ frontman and songwriter Robin Pecknold, and a return to warmth and comfort after rough waters. The cover art of their prior album, 2017’s “The Crack-Up,” shows tall waves splashing against rocks. “The Crack-Up” is Fleet Foxes’ long voyage onto those rough waters, using epic tracks that bleed into one another to create feelings that shift between chaos and serenity.
Three years later, the release of Shore feels like Fleet Foxes no longer need their sea legs. They are instead planted firmly in the sand with beautifully arranged singles that build an atmosphere of security after the storm.
On Monday, without any prior press, the indie-folk group announced via their social media that “Shore” would be released exactly at 9:31 am Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday Sept. 22, exactly coinciding with the fall equinox. The album release was accompanied by a 16mm video by director Kersti Jan Werdal which juxtaposes images of majestic beaches and urban landscapes.
Much like the video and its release time, “Shore” stands at the precipice between new starts and old, turbulent waters. In one of the album’s many highlights, “Featherweight,” Pecknold sings the chorus: “May the last long year be forgiven/ All that war left within it/ I couldn’t, though I’m beginning to/ And we’ve only made it together/ Feel some change in the weather/ I couldn’t, though I’m beginning to.” Pecknold understands the anguish of the past year and attempts to guide us all to a sunny oasis, where our souls can change for the better and, ultimately, toward healing.
The album kicks off with “Wading in High Water,” featuring a beautiful yet simple chord progression that announces “Summer is over” in its first lyrics. The following first half of the album features upbeat indie folk/rock/pop tracks that are sure to warm your spirits as the leaves begin to change. These songs would be hard to find on any of the prior Fleet Foxes albums, which strayed more towards ambitious song structures and harmonies. All of these songs, however, feel like a relief, as if they don’t need to try as hard to pull off these massive productions in their music.
Rather than using a ton of the block vocal harmonies that Fleet Foxes are known for, they enlist the help of the Westerlies, an uber-talented brass quartet, to add both harmonic and rhythmic structure on many tracks. Two of those tracks that stand out are “Going-to-the-Sun Road” and “Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman,” both stationed firmly towards the end of the album. Both of them have the lush, full arrangements topped off with Pecknold’s simple, yet poetic lyrics that helped gain Fleet Foxes their critical and commercial success in their prior albums. The strength of Fleet Foxes’ first three albums contrast between grand songs full of interesting instrumentation and harmonies that could last for almost 10 minutes and simple folk songs that are almost lullaby-like in structure. Those earlier albums all felt like journeys, epics of Greek proportion. If Fleet Foxes’ earlier albums were journeys, then “Shore” was the destination. Even though its songs might not be as ambitious as much of Fleet Foxes’ prior discography, they maintain warmth.
In the title track “Shore,” which is also the final track, Pecknold sweetly croons over simple drums and dissonant piano that he “hopes [he’s] holding onto something.” It took Fleet Foxes over a decade and three prior albums to get to the shore. Let’s all hope they can hold on to it. Much like the beginning of the album, “Shore” begins with simple, warm sounding chords, but then it transitions towards a more uneasy sound. This culminates in one simple piano chord and silence, mirroring the turbulent journey the band has taken to get to this warm place.
“Shore” and several other tracks, most notably the poppy “Sunblind” feature allusions to Fleet Foxes’ influences: John Prine, Elliot Smith, and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. The latter even has vocals that were sampled on the record. Although these artists’ influences are noticeable throughout all of Fleet Foxes’ music, Pecknold makes a point of using his lyrics on this album to give them their due credit. “Shore” celebrates Fleet Foxes’ musical heroes that have inspired them to fall in love and create music.
“Shore” is an album built for autumn. The warmth of the rocking grooves in the album’s first tracks give way to more syncopations and dissonances on the back half. Yet, on that journey, you get to experience the lush colors and textures of the season of change. So, as the New England fall begins to reveal its own colors and textures, I cannot more highly recommend putting on your warmest flannel, grabbing an oat milk latte, and listening to the gorgeously autumnal “Shore.”