With the summer sun now on a descending trajectory and the leaves turning shades of yellow and gold and falling from the trees, we find ourselves at the crossroad of seasons, staring into more of an unknown then we have ever had to before. This year has been eye opening. The quarantine and lockdowns have awakened emotions that none of us have had time to try and digest before. While it may not feel like it, the opportunity to experience this type of reset has caused many to reflect on the things that are truly important.
Questioning if we have been putting our time and energies into the places that are meaningful to us while also showing us the unsettling injustices that have been taking place silently, or blindly, in front of our eyes for so long. While all these situations play out, there is an interesting facet of this changing season that hasn’t been felt as strongly before. This invisible delineation isn’t only a sign of change but hopefully a change that is marked by an optimism that we will all come out of this unsureness thoughtfully and positively. In a move that may be completely coincidental, Robin Pecknold and his cohorts in Fleet Foxes have managed to surprise us with their new album, Shore, which acts as a soundtrack to this optimism. Released directly at the Fall Equinox this morning, Shore is a bright, beguiling and hopeful statement that reflects on what has come before, where we find ourselves and leaves us anticipating the coming changing of the season in the most encouraging way possible.
The album begins with a bit of a prologue in “Wading In Waist High Water”. The track features Uwade Akhere on lead vocals and it’s the perfect set up for the journey the album will take you on. Her vocals and the lilting, chiming guitar completely set a tone that is at once comforting and intriguing. The track segues perfectly into the actual first “song” on the album, the honey dipped “Sunblind”. This is a Fleet Foxes we haven’t heard before. The song almost does away with the orchestrated denseness that we’ve come to expect from the band and replaces it with a cheerful brightness and a straight forward rhythmic arrangement that exemplifies this radiance. Radiant, is actually a great descriptor for the entire album. “Can I Believe You” continues the trend of the band using majestic harmonies that absolutely floor while transitioning wonderfully into a propulsive, chorus complete with a bubbling bass line that will make you instantly sit up and take notice. There are a ton of these moments throughout the running time of Shore. While in the past Fleet Foxes albums have felt more like a warm blanket on a cold day, something that you can easily sink into and ruminate on quietly, this new album absolutely demands to be paid attention to. “Jara”, named for Victor Jara, the Chilean folk singer, is an homage to Pecknold’s friends who are activists and organizers and fill the type of role for him personally that Jara held and holds with the people in his home country.
There are moments where Pecknold’s voice is so wonderfully crisp and bursts through the song’s arrangement in a way that will make you actually sit up. “A Long Way Past The Past” is a little strutter. The music holds a place to allow the vocal melodies to soar throughout it. Horns and strings pop in and out of the arrangement, just catching your ear and tying everything together in a beautiful bow. “For A Week Or Two” acts a bit of a breather at the record’s midpoint. Feeling more like a hymnal, it is a perfectly beautiful palate cleanser in between the more deeply orchestrated songs featured around it. Even though “Maestranza” starts with some field type recording of birds chirping, the song is by far the most groove heavy the band has ever been. The crisp sixteenth notes on the hi hat and the soulful bass lay down the perfect infrastructure for all the other instruments to buoy around it. It should be mentioned that Pecknold worked with a few new rhythm collaborators on the album, including Christopher Bear of Grizzly Bear, Homer Steinweiss of the band Holy Hive and the great Joshua Jaegar, whose contributions here literally make these songs hit harder than they ever had. There is a new feel to the songs that make them feel more pointed and direct. “Young Man’s Game” is a perfect example of this. This may be the most forwardly rocking the band has ever been on tape but also Pecknold’s most wry lyrically. It practically jaunts out of the speakers in the best way possible. “Going-to-the-Sun Road” is a shiny, lilting number featuring vocal contributions from Brazilian musician Tim Bernandes that add another layer of wonder to an already wondrous song. “Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman” starts, intriguingly, with a sample of Brian Wilson from the Pet Sounds sessions effectively counting in the song. This is one of the examples on the record of Pecknold paying homage to his musical heroes and it’s used so interestingly in this song as it feels like Wilson is sitting in with the group. The final, title track acts as the records epilogue. With Pecknold’s vocals and piano comfortingly wrapping up this particular journey with our narrator staring into the shore of the ocean and feeling “Afraid Of The Empty/But Safe On The Shore” and there lies the thesis of the album all rolled up in one perfect sentiment.
It is the autumn season now and with it comes the fear and expectation and uncertainty of what will happen. As we do our best to navigate the huge emotions that come with it all, it’s going to be nice to have this album to help offer some tranquility. This year, like the shore that Pecknold and company are staring into is an ever changing, swirling mass of ambiguity and anxiety but here on the land, through these songs, we can take a little comfort in the knowledge that our feet are firmly planted in the sand and there is some optimism on the horizon and as cautious as we may need to be about it, we can literally hear it running throughout the entirety of this wonderful record.