Seattle-based Fleet Foxes are known for their ornate, harmonious sound, a formula which they’ve mastered over the course of their now four-album discography. On their newest album, Crack-Up, out via Nonesuch, Fleet Foxes expand this formula to perfection. Where Helplessness Blues contained a few questionable moments — take the Beefheart-esque free jazz insanity at the end of “The Shrine,” for instance — each piece of Crack-Up feels important and well-reasoned; at no point on Crack-Up do frontman Robin Pecknold’s experimental excursions feel too erratic to fit with the rest of the album. That’s not to say that Crack-Up is overly safe, though; in fact, compared to other Foxes releases, it’s a huge leap away from pop sensibility.
In lieu of traditional choruses, the album’s songs are often split into interestingly distinct movements which bear little relation to each other. Crack-Up’s only potential issues stem from just a few songs. “Fool’s Errand” is the poppiest of the bunch, with a big, anthemic chorus, but its structure goes nowhere. And then there’s “Mearcstapa,” probably the album’s most challenging song. Despite some interesting Eastern sounds, the song offers little to latch on to. Perhaps more listens will resolve this.
As usual, Pecknold et. al. weave an impressive number of sounds into tight, melodic compositions on their latest project. The sheer density of Crack-Up might be its most impressive characteristic; it’s rare to hear less than five or six different tracks at any given moment. Buried in the quiet moments of “Kept-Woman,” for instance, what sounds like the drone of a cello or violin is just barely discernible in the mix. It’s quiet enough to be practically unnoticeable, but it shows the commitment the band has to its sound: that impossibly intricate yet functional collage of noises they add to on each and every track. It’s true that less is often more, but sometimes, as on Crack-Up, more is simply more.
From Pecknold’s ever-cryptic songwriting — all wrapped up in his personal life and political views — to the stellar instrumentation and complex, baroque arrangements that pervade the album, Crack-Up is fantastic through and through. In the lengthy expanse of time since their last release back in 2011, Fleet Foxes might have lost a few fans, but whatever fans remain will be happy to have waited six years for Crack-Up.