Robin Pecknold's Fleet Foxes are back with another gorgeous, unique album that balances profundity and earnestness.
The band's sonic expansion is evident early on. "I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar" begins with detuned acoustic guitar and the lowest singing heard yet from Pecknold, before blooming into the lush strums and layered vocals that characterize their sound; another guitar articulates a 2/3 polyrhythm with a repeated note, adding tasteful tension. The track ends with watery paddling sounds, and a crowd singing the "ooh" melody from 2008 track "White Winter Hymnal."
"Cassius" begins with that same paddling sound and a perhaps electronically triggered vocal sample. For a band whose past work sounded so pastoral, even medieval at times, pulling off samples, electronics and polyrhythms with such subtlety feels like an impressive feat. However, these elements also enhance the feelings of anxiety and alienation in navigating life's ambiguities, an important theme early in the album's flow. Crack-Up picks up the pieces of Pecknold's existential crises (expressed on Helplessness Blues and grappled with in the interim), and tries to forge a way forward.
"If You Need To, Keep Time On Me" insists on a kind of stability after the self-examination and questioning of the first several songs, the repeated titular phrase seeming to analogize an existential belief, the choice to make one's own meaning in a chaotic world. "Fool's Errand" seems to suggest, furthermore, that seeking some grand, universal meaning is pointless, and that such a meaning is not necessary to enjoy life anyways. Acknowledging that there are no big answers here provides the album its own kind of direction.
With Crack-Up's earnest explorations of the human condition and evocative, progressive composition, Fleet Foxes maintain their status as one of the best folk rock bands of the 21st century. (Nonesuch)