‘Crack-Up’ Reintroduces the World to a New Fleet Foxes

If you can, think back to this time a year ago. It was nice, wasn’t it? Obama was still President, the Cleveland Cavaliers were coming back from down 3-1 to defeat the Warriors in the NBA finals, and the EU was a (largely) big, happy family. Unfortunately, also back then, nobody was sure if Fleet Foxes were still around anymore. So maybe it wasn’t all great.

Well, now, all those things are decidedly worse in June of 2017, but at least Fleet Foxes is coming out with “Crack-Up,” which marks their first album since the force of nature that was the 2011 album “Hopelessness Blues.” While not saying that “Crack-Up” makes up for all the ills of June 2017, it does make it all a little bit better.

One might have thought that Fleet Foxes reached their musical apex with “Hopelessness Blues,” and collectively decided to go out on top and thus began their infamous hiatus. Thankfully, “Crack-Up” proves that they are not only back to making music, but are making music that is poetic, melodic, powerful, and beautiful.

Perhaps the standout of this new album, the sprawling and meandering nine-minute epic “Third of May / Ōdaigahara” is as autobiographical as the ever-metaphorical Fleet Foxes gets. This song tells the story of the band, and the tumultuous friendship and working relationship of lead singer and songwriter Robin Pecknold and founding member and guitarist Skyler Skjelset, but does so through tight musical changes that mirror the highs, lows, and neithers of the past 10 years of Fleet Foxes. In this, Pecknold gets an introspective as he has in the past, as at the beginning of the “Ōdaigahara” section, he apologetically delivers the line “I was a fool, crime after crime to confess to,” all the while being accompanied by a nearly psychedelic and wholly minimalist backing.

Not only is “Crack-Up” more autobiographical than any of Fleet Foxes’ past works, it is also thematically and musically different from any work they have done in the past.

Instead of an carefree ode to the Greek island of Mykonos and all the romance and fun that it entails, there is the politically-charged haunting of “Cassius, -” which tackles the Aaron Sterling killing and the protests that it sparked. With lyrics like “All inciting the fifth of July/When guns for hire open fire, blind against the dawn,” the Fleet Foxes have found a way to make a social statement and still maintain the harmonies and folk syncopation that have been their trademarks.

But, that is not to say they haven’t evolved.

“Crack-Up” employs more complex melodies and has clearly drawn influence from musical genres beyond their indie folk subgenre, which is prevalent in the droning “I Should See Memphis” with its Gregorian tendencies, or the heavy drum beats of the title track.

With this album, Fleet Foxes has managed to maintain the sound and feel that have made them one of the most beloved bands of the past 10 years, while proving that their time off has not only done them well, but offered increased perspective on their band and their music. As Pecknold sings on the final track of “Crack-Up”: “If I don’t resist/Will I understand?” And, with “Crack-Up,” Fleet Foxes proves that they not only understand, but will continue to resist complacency.

Crack-Up is available on on Apple Music June 16.