Crack-Up (2017) is an appropriate title for the mosaic-like compilation of sharp, shard-like transitions and eclectic blend of sounds heard in the third album by the Seattle-based group Fleet Foxes. Unlike Fleet Foxes (2008) and Helplessness Blues (2011), composed of soft songs with smooth progression, bucolic lyrics, and gentle chords, Crack-Up crashes onto a once peaceful shore with a thundering force that beckons full attention. Like the ocean itself, the album ebbs and flows, carries you in its current, spits you out into the open sea, and, just as you begin to feel queasy with the chops, it delivers you into a gentle sway. Although the best parts of Fleet Foxes’ complex early work verge on timelessness, the human emotion in the waves of Crack-Up seem to expose lead singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold in an intimate way that places this third album in a different dimension than the rest.

With its array of haphazard audio clips, like those of sloshing water and cryptic footsteps, stuck in the crags of the track-list, Crack-Up may appear as an attempt at something avant-garde. However, the album possesses an autobiographical and collaborative background that anchors the production, preventing it from being side-swept into an edgy artistic category. After a six-year hiatus, the album is a product of many months of suffering and soul-searching, as Pecknold reveals his journey to find meaning. Instead of taking the role as a patronizing know-it-all or self-righteous preacher, Pecknold finds himself side by side with the rest of us. During the era of Helplessness Blues, Pecknold broke up with a longtime partner, silently struggled with a medical condition, and found himself spending months in different areas of the globe, enrolling in college, and “trying to find new things to care about,” as said in a New York Times article. Even the origins of the name itself, an allusion to the short story “Crack-Up” written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, relate to the album’s background in its account of an author’s existential crisis.   

Since the album can play like a lyrical stream of consciousness, Crack-Up may seem like a tangle of never-ending cliches overly saturated by transcendental and political themes. Although Pecknold’s themes have been explored many times, Crack-Up was not meant to please critics, but an appeal to an intrinsic motivation to make music independent of any societal coercion. In a comment of a Stereogum preview, Pecknold confirms:

I can still comfortably and with a clear conscience make music that is beautiful and useful to people who are receptive, but I don’t do so from a sage-like position at all… recording this album was the first time in my creative life that I really felt in control, and like I was making something very closely aligned with my values and my own listening predilections, that I couldn’t write off to myself as pastiche, trend-hopping, genre exercise, or a bald-faced attempt to crack 9.0 on Pitchfork. Buoyed by this feeling, I would often then have the competing thought that this self-assurance was a bad sign, as the insecurity and desire to please others that often guided me in making music before had also paid off in the pleasing of the arbiters of the blogosphere. It was a gamble then…

The album itself takes its own journey that often contradicts itself, much like if the music itself was being indecisive or exploratory on its own. As the album ignites in its opening track, like a raging flood rushing down a stream, it fizzles in the second half into a sleepy, lapping tide. By “I Should See Memphis,” the LP has reduced to flat, still water that’s hard to trudge. There isn’t a “White Winter Hymnal” or any individual hit potential on Crack-Up, but Pecknold has gifted fans a roadmap into his mind, something that is arguably more value to those who have been waiting over half a decade for this release.

As if upholding an obligation, Pecknold seems to compensate for his absence through both extensive material and an enthusiastic revival of Fleet Foxes in Crack-up. The album was crafted through numerous posts on Instagram including clips and questions from the lead singer about the production and what they wish to hear next. This makes the album unique compared to past Fleet Foxes records due to the active role social media had in its release. Neither did Pecknold didn’t stop at Instagram in order to make sure his followers were heard. A world tour for Crack-Up has already been released that spans the next year and beyond. Multiple consecutive gigs were already played at the Sydney Opera House, one of which was live-streamed. Pecknold is making it known he has resurfaced, towing along with him a reinvented Fleet Foxes that still withholds a recognizable sound. Whether or not they will stay afloat is another question, but with the attention Crack-Up has garnered so far, it appears that their fourth LP, which Pecknold already named Gioia on his infamous Instagram, will have a gentle current to sail in on.

Written by Delaney Gomen

 

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