Fleet Foxes’ Third Doesn’t “Crack-Up”, Nor Shine

Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up 
Nonesuch Records
– out June 16
3.5 / 5

 

Fleet Foxes can’t seem to get out from the shadow of their debut self-titled LP. But don’t despair: their third LP Crack-Up is still a solid offering from the Seattle-based “baroque pop” quintet. While Crack-Up doesn’t rely as heavily on the whiskey smooth harmonies unleashed in 2008’s Fleet Foxes, the latest release does something that we greatly appreciate from a band: Crack-Up experiments, it expands. Most of the waters the Foxes test are in terms of songwriting and composition, specifically with dynamics and unexpected musical progressions. While not as blissful and macabre as something like “White Winter Hymnal” (off that deeply brilliant Fleet Foxes), we appreciate that the opener “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar” is something that does not lend itself to radio play.

 

Why is that, and why do we like that it’s a tough radio sell? The opener employs piano forte (that is, “soft, then immediately loud”), and the extreme dynamics change would make it difficult to listen to the soft parts in the car. But the cool thing about this is that it creates an interesting (though not purely blissful) chiaroscuro kind of effect, that is, there is a strong contrast here that keeps the listener on his or her toes. Our favorite track here is “Keep Time On Me,” a track that could easily have come from 2008. It’s got simplified lyrics and structure, it’s not terribly experimental, and it relies heavily on those gorgeous vocals with which this band has shaken the music world. While we do appreciate Fleet Foxes brandishing some new tools on Crack-Up (okay, not entirely new, if you’ve caught “The Shrine / An Argument” from 2011’s Helplessness Blues), we must say they neither stumble nor soar. Crack-Up is something of a change-up from their groundbreaking debut, and while it certainly works, we feel that, just like Helplessness Blues, we find ourselves back at listening to their debut instead.

 

In some bizarre way, one could argue that Fleet Foxes’ debut album will always be holding back their latest attempts. But from what we caught on Crack-Up, we suspect something new and something brilliant is along the way; and until that album comes, even this one comes recommended.

 

Listen to Fleet Foxes on Soundcloud.

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