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Crack-Up with Fleet Foxes: “Third of May” is a Little Early.

After 6 full years of nothing new by Fleet Foxes, they return in 2017 with their third LP, Crack-Up on June 16.

A lot has changed in the past 6 years. Frontman Robin Pecknold ditched his beard (as seen in the photo below by Shawn Brackbill. J Tillman left and now creates music under the monicker Father John Misty. And, the band said goodbye to longtime label Sub Pop in favor of Nonesuch Records.

Fleet Foxes Nonesuch 2017

Today, I’m digging into my Fleet Foxes catalog and taking a look back at what we loved so much about those early releases while looking forward to their forthcoming LP and the newly released track “Third of May / Ōdaigahara”.

First, I can’t help but wonder why they’re releasing “Third of May” now. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to release a different lead single, then drop this one, say in just under two months? Alas, it was not so and we have a stellar near-nine-minute song to enjoy until that day arrives. But before we get to that, I want to take a step back.

Leading up to their self-titled release, I had the pleasure of seeing the band several times in their hometown of Seattle. One of the shows was at the EMP during Bumbershoot in September 2007, at which I shot the following, somewhat out of focus photo:

Fleet Foxes Bumbershoot 2007

LP 1: Fleet Foxes (2008)

On their debut self-titled LP (and accompanying EP Sun Giant), Fleet Foxes were at their best when they held a solid catchy melody. There was no touching powerful tracks like “White Winter Hymnal” and “Ragged Wood” and “He Doesn’t Know Why”. These were songs packed with a sturdy indie folk sound and the stark, vibrant vocals of Robin Pecknold. Vocals so prominent that Fleet Foxes simply could not be without them.

Even in their more stripped down state, like on “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and album closer “Oliver James” were the vocals so ever-present that they carried the tune. That’s not to say the backing band could be ignored; the skill and intricate instrumentation too was the complimentary adornments to Pecknold’s vocal centerpiece. The same could be said of the backing harmony vocals, prevalent throughout the album and EP.

A longtime favorite has always been “Mykonos” off Sun Giant. The song also received 7″ single treatment on Sub Pop, which I dug out for a spin earlier this evening:

Fleet Foxes Mykonos Single Instagram by @fense

Fleet Foxes was a well loved album, and to this day it remains so.

LP 2: Helplessness Blues (2011)

A few years later, the band released Helplessness Blues to slightly less success. Some of the steam of Fleet Foxes had left; for me, at least, it was just the wrong time. In retrospect, this album deserved a lot more of my attention than it got. Bad rap, sadly.

Take a song like “Sim Sala Bim” or “Someone You’d Admire”; these songs are just as great as the overly catchy or outstandingly stripped-down and raw tracks off Fleet Foxes. Both are solid favorites today.

However, the track that caught my attention at the time to become an instant favorite off that second album was the multi-part song “The Shrine / An Argument”. Much of this was thanks to the various movements, all of which held their own. And the free-jazz-style saxophone and skillful string accompaniment just after six minutes in was the perfect climax.

The band must have thought so too, as they gave the song a video:

Now that we’ve taken a look at the band’s first two albums, how does the first peek at the third LP compare?

A First Taste of Cracked-Up (2017)

“Third of May / Ōdaigahara” begins with a solid strum, and Pecknold’s vocals jump in right off the bat. There: the beloved harmony vocals are back, subtle but fully appreciated.

As hinted in the two-part title, this song finds more similarity to “The Shrine / An Argument” than the bulk of Fleet Foxes’ other works. And that gets me excited.

It may be long, but there are some gems in here that cannot be ignored, from the solid production value to the multi-vocalist signature to a vast portion of the band’s work, and, of course, the instrumental mastery of the band itself.

Check out the colorful video for “Third of May / Ōdaigahara” above and don’t miss out on Crack-Up come June on Nonesuch. The album is available now for preorder from your favorite digital retailer or in physical form from the label.

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