Crack-Up is the album that the beanie-clad hipster in your philosophy class will play when he tries to seduce you over craft IPAs. Bringing to mind deep green forests shrouded in mist, endless rain and the opening scene of “Twilight,” Fleet Foxes’s new album will satisfy the band’s most loyal fans’ apparently bottomless desire for acoustic guitar and melodramatic lyrics about historical figures whose names everyone will need to Google.
Crack-Up can be described in the same mumbo-jumbo terms aspirational wine connoisseurs like to throw around: dense, oaky, full-throated. It’s a standard Pacific Northwest album — soft and moody, with a particular fondness for sad recollection of days past, sung in a reedy and insistent voice that wriggles its way into the ears. It might be a spoiler to some to say that every Fleet Foxes song sounds exactly the same, though a more familiar listener could quickly point out that thrumming guitar coupled with one very distinctive singing voice can only create so much aural diversity.
Where the band fails at sonic evolution, however, it dominates at ambiance. Fleet Foxes is skilled at contributing to those atmospheric, David Foster Wallace “this is water” kinds of moments, like driving late at night, or heading out on a momentous adventure. The sound that fails to excite at every party — except those in Seattle and Eugene — makes excellent background music for soft- and sad-boy exploits.
Still, Crack-Up is a surprisingly angular artwork. The songs don’t twist, but turn at right angles, shifting from darkness to light, silence to noise and instrument to voice so quickly a listener could get disoriented. “I Am All that I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar,” the album’s first song, is a striking example. Its first minute is heavy and meditative, haunted just as much by lyrics such as “I am all that I need … / Distant light, distant dancer” as it is by the voice that sings them, which is almost ominous in its somnolent deepness. Suddenly, halfway through the word “need,” clear, ringing guitar breaks through the shadows so powerfully a headphone-clad listener might jump.
As jarring as this oscillation might sound, it’s also the one triumph of Crack-Up. The album is really similar to Fleet Foxes’s earlier work, but it’s just different enough — darker and more textured — to warrant a listen.
It is disappointing to hear more of the same after a six-year hiatus; potential listeners with high hopes for a truly new-sounding album will find themselves holding out their hands for more. However, Crack-Up’s sonic acrobatics in certain songs are winning and worthwhile, and partially make up for the sadness of the album’s own staleness.