Music Reviews

Fleet Foxes Shore

(ANTI- ) Rating - 7/10

In the afternoon, as my son and I drove home from a surf, I played him the new Fleet Foxes album, Shore. Halfway through the first song, Wading in Waist-High Water, I asked Max what commercial he could imagine this song sound-tracking. He thought about it, then said, Brandy Melville. Maybe Hollister.” What kind of food are the people eating? “Salad bowls, with organic grains,” he said. And they're drinking? “Kombucha.” We joked about bonfires and boho-chic communes, our mockery centering on what we quickly deemed, “lifestyle music.” But then, about three songs in, my son conceded that the music was actually “kind of nice and relaxing.”
As we listened to each subsequent song, we increasingly fell under the spell of Robin Pecknold's Beach Boys harmonies and gently-ebbing pastoral melodies. Let's face it: my son and I were living our own on-brand-Fleet-Foxes-lifestyle, driving home from a surf, sun and salt-touched hair, chatting about life and drinking sparkling water. I won't admit what we had for lunch, because that takes away from the overall effect. Fine, it was greasy sandwiches from a haunted fast-food place called Farmer Boys. Why, then, the need to poke fun at this album?
Maybe it's just awkward to accept Robin Pecknold's sincerity and conviction at face value. In these cynical times, it can be easier to swallow the shadow version of Pecknold, ex-Fleet Fox Josh Tillman, whose Father John Misty project is so far up his own jaded, self-aware ass that Tillman basically gives us permission to loathe him as much as he scorns the vapid characters he croons about. Whereas, with Pecknold's project, we're confronted with music unafraid of baring its gentle soul, presented by an artist whose solemnity about his work lead him to release Shore at the exact second of the autumnal equinox. By god, we don't know whether to grimace in embarrassment or give in to Pecknold's sincerity.
When I finally left my cynicism at the door, I was also relieved of my anxieties and worries, because Fleet Foxes's latest is an entrancing, expansive, relaxing, and benedictory musical vision. In many ways, Shore is a continuation of Pecknold's path from folksy troubadour, to Brian Wilson acolyte, to heir apparent of the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young throne (with an emphasis on Young). This latest offering from Fleet Foxes embodies their entire catalog of folksy sounds, seasons it with some jazzy elements, and pares down some bloat (only one track over five minutes).
Perhaps the only surface flaw of this album is that certain songs build too quickly and fade too fast; like a tide sweeping away a sand castle, by the time you feel yourself enthralled in the song's world, the ocean subsumes the music. But that's a mild criticism, because the overall scope of the album fits together like a well-decorated room, with each song adding to the overall feng shui—not an Ottoman out of place—held together by the ascendancy of Pecknold's voice, which, as always, is as majestic and singular as an eagle riding warm updrafts over a vast canyon.
And yet, just as I give in to the spacious beauty of the album, I remember that Father John Misty, at least, seems to address his privilege; Tillman is at once aware of, repulsed by, and propelled by his whiteness. With Shore, on the other hand, by putting forth a vision of soft eulogies, gentle hymns, and precious road-songs, Pecknold's vision rings as implicitly complacent as a Hollister advertisement, a winter-long hymn that, by neglecting our current socio-political moment, inadvertently fetishizes an aspirational whiteness. Sure, many musicians do this—and we've ignored them because that has been our privilege—but it seems disingenuous to do so now, to not call out an album that dreams of rolling pastures, dreamy seascapes, and offers us softball platitudes like: “Well you won’t stop and I know you’ll find it, halfway down the coast.” Halfway down the coast? It's that sort of off-white imagery that points to everything and nothing all at once, with a Caucasian, incense-stained fingertip.