Our relationships to everything — the outside world, each other, ourselves — have been altered with varying degrees of velocity over the last six months. To live through times seized by so much cataclysm is to spend your waking hours reeling from one (often ugly) surprise to another, forever in search of solid ground that feels as though it may never materialize. To then come into contact with such a thing as Fleet Foxes’ Shore is welcome, indeed.
The record, released Sept. 22, feels like home in a way not much has since the world began to unravel earlier this year. While it might seem like an absurd overstatement to categorize these 15 songs as healing … well, it’s just been that kind of year.
A surprise digital release dropped on the dot at the beginning of the autumnal equinox (ongoing hellscape consuming our lives or no, Fleet Foxes is nothing if not on-brand), Shore veers back toward more familiar — and yes, richly pastoral — territory following the bold, expansive left turn of 2017’s Crack-Up.
The record finds head Fox Robin Pecknold easing into his mid-thirties, no less vulnerable as he ages (“It never got less strange, showing anyone just a bare face,” he sings on the phenomenal “Can I Believe You”). Although time may be gaining on him, Pecknold has been an old soul from the moment the Seattle-formed band burst onto the scene — gulp — more than a dozen years ago.
It’s not hard to take Shore as it’s given: A balm that stings slightly, even as it soothes. Laced with incandescent melodies, gleaming guitars and Pecknold’s multi-tracked falsetto harmonies feathered like clouds, Shore’s exquisite songs — the arresting “Sunblind,” the bleak “I’m Not My Season,” the pensive “A Long Way Past the Past” or the Brian Wilson studio chatter-sampling “Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman” — smoothly bleed into one another, a pleasant smear finding its grim counterpoint in how little time seems to mean these days.
Despite its digital release — physical versions of Shore are reportedly due in 2021, provided we all live to see it — there is a comforting analog warmth suffusing these 15 tracks, at odds with what Pecknold describes in an extensive artist’s statement as a particularly anxious, fraught creative process.
“Since the unexpected success of the first Fleet Foxes album over a decade ago, I have spent more time than I’m happy to admit in a state of constant worry and anxiety,” Pecknold writes. “By February 2020, I was again consumed with worry and anxiety over this album and how I would finish it.”
As with so much else in this cursed year, the global pandemic and other assorted calamities befalling the United States provided Pecknold with searing clarity, inspiring him to finish the record late this past summer.
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Despite its completion with an array of collaborators (including Beatriz Artola, Daniel Rossen, Christopher Bear and Hamilton Leithauser’s family), Shore is a seamless, compact listen — none of its tracks, save one, stretches beyond the five-minute mark.
These little pockets of melody and meaning, stitched together with sly, allusive language and Pecknold’s one-of-a-kind voice, deftly sneak past your defenses, striking you in the soul. There are undeniable echoes of the first Fleet Foxes record here, but not in a reductive, lazy way.
Much of Shore unfolds almost as if Pecknold is calling back to the apprehensive, uncertain young man of his past, letting him — and by extension, us as listeners — know the peaks and valleys are worth it.
It is always darkest before the dawn, as the saying goes, and, like a gift you didn’t know you needed to receive, Shore breaks brilliantly, bright and shining across the forlorn sky of our current moment and all the dark days to come.