Once in a while in the music industry, an artist releases an album or mixtape so redefining, that it forces everyone on the periphery to pay attention — and Fleet Foxes seem to be one of the few artists who do it every time. 

Part of this can be attributed to the fact that the gap between releases feels just as crucial to their mystique as the release periods themselves. Each intermission acts as the narrative for the album that follows it. The period after their debut found frontman Robin Pecknold reeling from the band’s massive success and struggling to find a larger purpose, a state of mind which is perfectly reflected on their sophomore album Helplessness Blues. After the long and tumultuous touring process of Helplessness Blues, tensions rose and the band unofficially broke up. During the six-year hiatus, Pecknold disconnected and then had to learn how to connect back to society, which is embodied in the narrative told on Fleet Foxes’s following album Crack-Up. So what can be said about the time between then and their new album Shore?

Just from the music itself, there seems to be a greater sense of self-assuredness, as if Pecknold has gotten over the hypercriticality that defined his previous work. Unlike Crack-Up, which appropriately constructed complex and jarring instrumental passages, Shore strips everything down in favor of a more digestible sound. To oversimplify, the album is very laid back. It’s by far the most accessible release since their debut and even then, that first record was lauded at the time for taking folk in a direction no one had ever heard before. Conversely, Shore is less idiosyncratic than it is a culmination of sorts. A lot of songwriting ideas that span across their discography end up on the record as well as plenty of new ones that build the album’s own identity. It is no surprise, then, how well this album has pierced into the mainstream. For Fleet Foxes in particular, it was not a question of if they would ever make the jump from the outer regions of the mainstream to a position of establishment, but when.

Part of the acclaim came from great timing. The relaxed atmosphere and joyous tones bring a lot of hope in a time where it seems none can be found. The last six months have brought with them a vast sea of music that feeds on a sense of fire and fury; in contrast, Shore is an intensely grateful album. Robin Pecknold finds appreciation in the fact that despite the disaster outside our door, we still survive. The whole album is framed by an experience when he almost died while surfing in 2017. Shore refers to the moment one finally touches their feet on the shore after nearly drowning. As he says on the track “Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman:” “And I feel worn, but the air is clean.” There is a sense of beauty that comes from that terrifying clarity, a self-examination of one’s privileged existence. 

In the artist’s statement for Shore, Pecknold says that during the recording process he discovered that “(m)usic is both the most inessential and the most essential thing.” This might also be the best way to describe Shore. Right now, there are much more important things to concern oneself with, yet everything about that album both thematically and atmospherically feels absolutely necessary. It doesn’t try to navigate the complexities of some grand statement but it thrives in merely offering itself to the world, perhaps as a balm or maybe something else. 

Daily Arts Writer Drew Gadbois can be reached at gadband@umich.edu.

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