An impressive piece of work and all the more so given the prolonged interim since their last recorded work, Fleet Foxes' debut for Nonesuch Records, Crack-Up, bestows a cachet all its own, to the group as well as the work itself, suggesting both the band and the label are clearly poised to generate recognition equal to the anticipation.
Comprised of eleven songs written by Robin Pecknold. the album was co-produced by the titular leader of Fleet Foxes and his longtime second-in-command Skyler Skjelset. It arrives six years after the release of their Grammy Award-winning Helplessness Blues (Bella Union, 2011) nearly a decade since the band's self-titled debut on Sub Pop. The new album is a most courageous, ambitious statement, especially as it opens with the expansive "I'm All That I Need"/"Arroyo Seco"/"Thumb print Scar: " after a voice like that of the conscience whispers over elementary acoustic guitars prior to subsiding for group vocals, harmonies billowing like the subsequent orchestration that leads to a spoken interlude that conjures a somewhat hallucinatory sensation.
This three-part semi-epic renders "Cassius" almost, but not quite, straightforward, particularly as it sets a pattern for Crack-Up. The simplest of backing, such as the piano foundation of "Kept Woman," usually sets the stage for more luxuriant soundscapes, in the form of the massed voices if nothing else. In fact, the most consistent theme on this album, as with Fleet Foxes past work, is the voices, solo or in a group setting; particularly in the coupling of songsbesides the aforementioned opener, there is "Third of May / Ōdaigahara"the vocals on a track such as "On Another Ocean (January / June)" offset the careful distance Pecknold maintains from the subject(s) of his songs.
Still, this is an artistic slight of hand that's lends clarity and aids immeasurably to render Crack-Up an organic piece of work. As a result, even with the multi-instrumental capabilities of the quintet and the sculpted production approach, the end result is usually intoxicating, at least in the cumulative effect of the eleven total tracks. As is also prevalent on "If You Need to, Keep Time On Me," the lush likes of "Mearcstapa" betrays a certain bloodless element in this music, an often inevitable result when such labored craft supersedes passion. To be fair though, on a track like "Fool's Errand," the latter does outweigh the former, even if just barely.
And while some of the lyrics, as those of "I Should See Memphis," suggests a near-ruthless self-analysis at work here, the concluding titletune that immediately follows presents its logical conclusion where the horns and strings deliver an emotional catharsis of sorts. There's much to absorb throughout the whole of Crack-Up, but the patience required should bring a proportionate payoff.
Track Listing: I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar; Cassius; Naids, Cassadies; Kept Woman; Third of May/Odaigahara; If You Need to, Keep Time On Me; Mearcstapa; On Another Ocean (January/June); Fool's Errand; I Should See Memphis; Crack-Up.
Personnel: Robin Pecknold: vocals, vocal manipulation, Spanish guitar, 6- and 12-string acoustic guitars, 12 string electric guitar, Mellotron, Moog Minitaur, piano, water and train foley loops, Korg drum machine, swinging door, Baldwin electric harpsichord, prepared autoharp, Fender bass, Hofner bass; Skyler Skjelset: electric guitar, Shamisen, vocalizing, percussion, electric guitar, synthesizer, percussion loop, drum machine, foley, programming programming, water harp; Christian Wargo: vocals, Fender bass; Hofner bass, drum kit; Morgan Henderson: Cello, Qraqebs, double bass, pitched Bass Clarinet, flutes; Casey Wescott: chromatic bells, Qraqebs, SuperCollider birdsong programming, piano; Matthew Barrick: drum kit, percussion; Christopher Icasiano: drum kit, percussion; Neal Morgan: drum kit, percussion, cymbal swells; Brian McPherson: spoken word; Morgan Henderson: double bass, qraqebs; flutes; Hannah Epperson: violin; Andy Clausen: trombone; Willem de Koch: trombone; Zubin Hensler: trumpet; Riley Mulherkar: trumpet; horns written by Robin Pecknold and arranged by Andy Clausen for the Westerlies; Russell Durham: 1st Violin; Jeremy Kittel: 2nd Violin; Nicholas Cords: viola; Dave Eggar:cello; String quartet written by Robin Pecknold, arranged by Gabriel Gall, and produced by Jonathan Seale for Mason Jar Music.