On its first album in six years Fleet Foxes reclaim the grandeur of their harmony singing if not the perfection of Robin Pecknold’s songwriting | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

On its first album in six years Fleet Foxes reclaim the grandeur of their harmony singing if not the perfection of Robin Pecknold’s songwriting 

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click to enlarge Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes

Shawn Brackbill

In the six years between this summer, when Fleet Foxes dropped its third studio album, Crack-Up (Nonesuch), and its 2011 predecessor, Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop), the band seems to have been blamed for the trend of countless lamentable rock bands that present monochromatic gang shouting as some kind of campfire-grade profundity (does anyone even remember Mumford & Sons or Lumineers?). Of course, that’s not fair or accurate; at its best, the Northwest five-piece brought gorgeous, stark vocal harmonies to the songs of lead vocalist and songwriter Robin Pecknold with the precision and soul missing from the shitty bands to emerge in their wake. Plus, Pecknold wrote songs with an affecting beauty the other groups haven’t been able to match. I had long assumed the band was kaput until I heard news of the new record, and while I’m not particularly interested in how Pecknold’s quest for perfection crippled his ability to create for a number of years, as he’s described in an interview with NPR, I was happy to hear a new batch of tunes from the band. That said, too many of the songs on the ambitious new album fall a bit flat; they’re weighed down by the grandeur of the multipartite arrangements, and the opulence isn’t always memorable. On the other hand, there are moments that are so undeniably gorgeous and moving that I don’t care about the passages infected by excess. “Third of May/Odaigahara” soars and floats in waves before falling away to silence to let Pecknold’s voice ring out before they join in again; “Fool’s Errand” piles one bittersweet hook after another into an episodic gem. It’s to the band’s credit that the songs never collapse under their own weight, and while the record could have been more concise, it’s nice to encounter such aspiration during a time when mediocrity seems par for the course. Nap Eyes open.   v

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