Fleet Foxes’ new album is optimistic and confident. “Shore”, the band’s fourth album, is a stylistic and tonal departure from the angst of the band’s last two records, 2011’s “Helplessness Blues” and 2017’s “Crack-Up”. While those two albums' primary focus was on personal struggles and interior experiences, “Shore” is about honoring other people’s contributions and experiences.
As if to prove this point, the first song on the album, “Wading in Waist High Water”, isn't sung by frontman Robin Pecknold. Uwade Akhere, an Oxford student and vocalist Pecknold found on Instagram, takes the lead, singing over the sound of crashing waves, gently strummed nylon-string guitar and horns. Akhere’s vocals are sprinkled throughout the record on various songs, lending a texture to the vocals not present on previous Fleet Foxes recordings.
In the second track, “Sunblind”, Pecknold literally sings the names of his numerous and varied musical influences. The song pays tribute to Richard Swift, John Prine, Judee Sill, Elliot Smith, Otis Redding and many more.
Though its title implies a sense of doubt, “Can I Believe You” has the most collaborators of any song on the record. It features the voices of about 400 of Robin Pecknold’s Instagram followers singing as background vocals. Tracks “Going-to-the-Sun Road”, “Cradling Mother”, and “Cradling Woman” feature the voices of Tim Bernardes and Brian Wilson.
The title track, “Shore”, acts as a sort of mission statement for the album. If it wasn’t apparent before, Pecknold states on this song that he depends on others when he feels down and out. The record is an outward facing one, embracing collaboration and the fact that sometimes you do have to rely on other people. At a time when society is divided by any number of issues, it is reassuring to note that people can still come together to make something special.
The album was released suddenly on Sept. 22, 2020 to little promotion; no singles were sent out ahead of the album. The date coincided with not only the Autumnal equinox, but also National Voter Registration Day, emblematic of that same spirit of togetherness.
The only song fans heard in its entirety before the album’s official release was “Featherweight”. Pecknold played the song as part of a live streamed performance for the organization HeadCount, which promotes participation in US elections through music.
The band’s previous records have a pretension to them, as if they need you to take them seriously for the music to be good. However, the air of self-importance is shaken off on “Shore”. There’s a sense of lightness and even irony, such as on “Young Man’s Game”.
This lightness makes for music that is both brighter and groovier. I often find myself tapping my foot to most of the songs. “Crack-Up and Shore” occupy the same amount of time, about 55 minutes, but “Shore” has a faster pace. Where the previous record plodded along after the first few songs, this one runs. The record possesses a lightness of tone, bolstered by higher tempos and shorter songs, that allow the record to clip along better than its predecessor.
The levity of tone in instrumentation and lyrics are what make the record so refreshing. With political unrest, natural disasters and a pandemic all happening around us, it’s easy to be sad and dreary. Fleet Foxes’ new record urges the listener to take shelter on its calm, sunny shoreline and to take solace in music.
The album embraces both the beauty and darkness in the world, and accepts them both. The album is full of gorgeous melodies that feel like a break in the clouds in the midst of a long, dreary blizzard. A sign that, though it may be hard to find, there’s still beauty in the world.
“Broke my leash surfing one time and got caught in a big set maybe 300 yards from shore,” Pecknold wrote in an Instagram post a year before Shore’s release. “Took such a long time to swim in, kept getting pummeled, panic attack, hyperventilating, tired, finally made it to shore. Shore = intense relief.”
Though the waves of 2020 might keep crashing in, we can all find a little escape in the warmth of Fleet Foxes’ “Shore”.
Will Mulligan is a reporter for the Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.