Album Review: Fleet Foxes—“Crack Up”

By Ria Perrault and Zohar Freeman, Featured Photo via Modern Vinyl

Crack Up, Fleet Foxes’ follow up to their previous critically acclaimed albums, is ambitious. After losing drummer Josh Tillman (now popularly known as Father John Misty), front man and chief songwriter Robin Peckhold’s risks pay off in an album rivaling Father John Misty’s, Pure Comedy. Crack Up maintains Fleet Foxes’ most classic elements – striking vocal harmonies laid over beating instrumentals, but now experiments with a diverse range of sound, from jazz guitar to lapping water.

Consider Crack Up’s opening track, “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar.” The suite opens with sparse instrumentals and mumbling vocals, barely giving warning for the wall of sound that hits a minute in. It acts as a jarring (and slightly contrived) introduction to the theatricality and meticulous arrangements consistent throughout the album. While the theatrics play to the band’s strengths in most cases, some songs seem to be overwhelmed by the surrounding antics. The conventional structure and themes of “Fool’s Errand” may fit well into Fleet Foxes’ greater body of work, but it fails to leave an impression contrasted against the album’s many highlights. Conversely, “Third of May / Ōdaighara” demonstrates how Peckhold’s newfound inspirations can and do elevate the sound that made Fleet Foxes famous. Here, lush harmonies are complemented by an experimental and winding song structure. Sounds from chirping birds to flamenco guitar dialogue nicely with Peckhold’s haunting vocals.

The core of Fleet Foxes’ new sounds is best demonstrated on “Mearcstapa.” Up until this point, the album’s tracks flow relatively seamlessly from one to the next. However, this song changes the album’s instrumental narrative by switching from the relatively safe instrumentation Fleet Foxes used to rely on, and instead incorporates elements of Middle Eastern music, jazz guitar, and a conversation between trumpet and strings. “Mearcstapa,” is reminiscent of the peak of Animal Collective, both in its arrangement, and sonar variety. These elements, while most obvious on “Mearcstapa,” are present throughout the album, and become a strong part of what differentiates the album from the rest of Fleet Foxes’ anthology.

Although it has its highlights, Crack Up is best listened to in its entirety, with an open mind and full attention. Hold off on the shuffle; the album relies on its continuous narrative, with many songs flourishing best when paired with the tracks that neighbor them (“Cassius-,” and “-Naiads, Cassadies”). Crack Up is a great album for long time fans of Fleet Foxes and first time listeners alike.

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