Big, bold, beautiful. The third album from Fleet Foxes is everything it's cracked up to be.Nonesuch, 2017
9.0 / 10
Six years separate Fleet Foxes from their previous album, Helplessness Blues. During that time, frontman Robin Pecknold went back to school. Additionally, he tried occupying his time with anything other than Fleet Foxes. But as we all know, resistance is futile. So, here we are, six years later with Crack-Up, an ambitious work from an already cherished indie folk band. Hell, Fleet Foxes is THE indie folk band, and Crack-Up only certifies it as FACT.
Many of the album’s songs are larger constructs of smaller songs. Pecknold’s time away feels validated by the attention that he has given to this album. An end result of a great absence that thankfully is more reward than disappointment. It’s like getting that bike you always wanted for Christmas rather than a toy from your local pharmacy. Everything about it feels grand like a great work of literature. Crack-Up even references literary great F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote a trilogy of essays titled The Crack-Up. The gist of the essays is that Fitzgerald was at his wit’s end, and he died shortly after writing The Crack-Up. Don’t worry; we shouldn’t expect the same of Pecknold. Instead of frail or frantic, Pecknold’s more alive than ever. Seemingly waking up from a long slumber with eager enthusiasm.
Consider how Fleet Foxes returned into our lives with the nearly nine-minute “Third of May / Ōdaigahara”. When it first arrived, it was hard to digest. This nearly nine-minute song dropped in our laps without disregard for our sanity. Really, we should have been thankful since it was so long since anything official from Fleet Foxes. But the song said so much; maybe too much for listeners with attention spans continuously waning as a result of modern instant gratification. This is likely where the negative review from Stereogum arises. Without knowing Tom Breihan, I’m sure he doesn’t want to spend all his time dissecting an album. He just wants to be able to enjoy it immediately. But this album requires work on our part as listeners. It’s like a relationship. We get from it what we put into it.
This means multiple listens. An initial run-through could leave you at the conclusion that Crack-Up isn’t all its cracked up to be. What is immediately discernible is that it’s long at 55 minutes. Certainly, we could all be doing something different for an entire hour. Plus, the songs constantly shift gears with weird names and points of reference that are hard to follow. Calling Crack-Up “bloated” or “self-indulgent” becomes easy. And I’m not one to shy away from declaring an album as such (see: Planetarium).
However, I know I always demand more from musicians. I want them to strive for greatness and not give me what I’ve heard a thousand times before. Robin Pecknold does so with Crack-Up. Yes, it’s long and sometimes difficult to follow. But it’s not boring. Musically, it’s gorgeous and vast as the ocean appearing on the album’s cover art. It’s folk music at its most orchestral; its most ambitious. And it’s what we should hope for after Fleet Foxes’ distance from our lives for so long. These bold arrangements elevate the lyrics behind the songs where Pecknold touches on our current political unrest, friendships, and soul searching to find his love for THIS again. It sounds like he has. And he loves it enough to give us an intelligent, thought-provoking album that could hold us off for 12 years. But please don’t make it 12 years, Mr. Pecknold.