On Sept. 22 at 6:31 a.m., the autumnal equinox came and went, leaving behind a surprise called Shore — the latest album from Fleet Foxes — as a lasting marker for the changing of the seasons. Rather than follow the direction of 2017’s conceptually ambitious Crack-Up, frontman Robin Pecknold has instead evolved the band by way of collaboration. Arriving with a batch of soothing songs that offer comfort and clarity, the result is the group’s most vibrant wave of technicolor folk music to date.
Fleet Foxes have always been known for their unique aesthetics from album to album, but on Shore, the band builds atop its established sound, blending elements from various points in its discography, along with new contributions from prominent collaborators such as Hamilton Leithauser, Christopher Bear and Kevin Morby. Combined with emotionally pointed lyricism that inserts listeners directly into the songs, Shore acts as a mirror, sounding equally as inviting of other voices as it actually is.
The album opens with the atmospheric “Wading in Waist-High Water,” as guest singer Uwade Akhere’s airy vocals usher in the sea change over swelling instrumentation and a backing children’s choir. In the chorus, she sings, “And we’re finally aligning/ More than maybe I can choose,” as Pecknold’s low humming rises in the background. The song comes to life like an early sunrise.
“Sunblind” is Fleet Foxes at their most accessible, a loving song that honors the memory of Pecknold’s inspirations and their everlasting music: Elliott Smith, Bill Withers, Judee Sill, Arthur Russell and the “warm American Water” of Silver Jews frontman David Berman, among many others. The album’s most memorable track comes in the form of “Can I Believe You,” a powerful meditation on trust that soars atop a choir of hundreds of voices melded together, built from various clips submitted by fans. It’s big. It’s bold. It’s beautiful.
A more lyrically immediate affair, Shore’s depth comes in the form of a wealth of sonic intricacies. There’s the shimmering harpsichord and airy horns on “Going-to-the-Sun Road,” which create an aura of pure majesty before a beautiful outro verse from Porteguese singer Tim Bernardes sends the song off into the horizon. Or the rapidly undulating piano that compliments the steady acoustic guitar strumming on the appropriately airy “Featherweight” as Pecknold reaches a newfound perspective on prior dissatisfactions.
Brightest of all is the propulsive arrangement on the album’s de facto finale, “Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman,” in which all kinds of sonic textures reverberate across the mix as the song briskly rolls out into pure orchestral splendor. Shore is brimming with details like these waiting to be uncovered, reinvigorating the music upon repeated listens.
On the album’s emotional centerpiece, “I’m Not My Season,” Pecknold conveys the separation of self from circumstance as he sings of a relationship in which both parties support each other through tough times. There’s a palpable uncertainty in his gentle delivery, as if the warmth of his voice is shielding his partner from unbearable despair. In the song’s chorus, he is softly defiant, declaring: “Well time’s not what I belong to/ And I’m not the season I’m in,” the sentiment bare and striking. The song is a statement of perseverance and one of Fleet Foxes’ best, a balm for crises that aptly captures hope in its most subtle — and perhaps most precious — form. This feeling radiates throughout Shore across its 15 tracks. Moments of doubt are answered with compassion, fear with empathy.
It’s this outward emotional turn that makes the album the band’s most welcoming. At the heart of these songs is a deep sense of appreciation and adoration for life in the face of challenging times, elevated to their emotional peaks by the music’s sheer grandeur. One listen holds the ability to profoundly affect the listener, such as the way Fleet Foxes does to Post Malone here. Though mileage with the album may vary, two things are certain: Your ears will thank you now. Your heart will thank you later.
Vincent Tran covers music. Contact him at [email protected].