There is probably nothing short of Autotune or a Yamaha home organ applied with neither skill nor dexterity which would render Fleet Foxes to sound like anything but Fleet Foxes. Their sound, these haunting, perfectly rendered pastoral elegies were introduced to the world on their first two albums, and they come back as is no time has passed (six years have) with the advent of their third outing, the oddly named (but doubtlessly ironic) Crack-Up (actually, snark aside, it’s not ironic at all, what with it being a reference to a trilogy of F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories, written when his best was behind him and his missus was in a laughing academy).
Crack-Up finds front man Robin Pecknold kicking things off in a decidedly low-fi manner, as removed as one might expect from a band whose last outings may have been written and recorded in a field of sorghum. This is a similar, yet conversely different flavour of Fleet Foxes album; it is at times tempestuous, Prog-ish (new adjective for you, dear readers, Progish is a trademark of lessercolumn.com) and at the same time ambitious beyond simple audient vastness and the lacking discipline one might expect from the likes of a Rick Wakeman (or whoever; prog never was my bag).
You know, for those out there seeking clear lines and distinctions – folk songs in a neat and easy to digest package – then Crack-Up might not be your brand of vodka. Take for example what turns out to be the album’s first single, ‘Third of May / Odaigahara,’ which clocks in this side of 10 minutes and is top-heavy with ambient guitar dalliances. Not really headed for high-rotation airplay, but then again, neither was Miles Davis and nobody really holds that against him. It’s just the wavelength he’s running on. From whatever place in the brain which music springs, it has gone and becomes something bigger, longer, and that’s just how the magic unfolds.
The absence of a ‘White Water Hymnal’ (a high point on their 2008 debut) is probably what will keep some fans at bay, but if you have the time and patience to let the sounds and experience flood your cortex as art is supposed to do (dammit, young people) then there are rubies in the saddlebag here. Crack-Up is a test, and you’d do yourself wise to study.