When I think of fall, I think of nature — cooler air, changing leaves, picking apples and pumpkin patches. That being said, I would argue that folk music is probably the most fitting to commemorate fall. The gentle sound of mellow guitars, soft beats and angelic harmonies is the perfect accompaniment to crisp fall air and cozy nights in.
With about as much warning as Virginia gave us before 80 degrees turned into 60, Fleet Foxes released their fourth album, “Shore,” on Sept. 22 at exactly 13:31 UTC in accordance with the fall equinox. The band hinted at the album’s release with a cryptic Instagram caption reading simply, “Tuesday,” just two days before the drop. “Shore” was officially announced Sept. 21, with a second Instagram post that detailed the band’s plans to reveal the album alongside a short film shot and directed by Kersti Jan Werdal. While a seemingly unorthodox way to announce new music, this isn’t the first 2020 release that’s come about in this manner — Taylor Swift’s “folklore” comes to mind.
Formed in Seattle in 2006, Fleet Foxes has become one of the most prominent indie folk bands in the music industry. Unlike other popular folk bands from the 2000s, Fleet Foxes aren’t defined by banjos and acoustic guitars. While their music utilizes guitars and mandolins, their signature lies in harmony-rich vocals, sometimes reminiscent of early choral music from the Roman Catholic Church. However, Fleet Foxes does a superb job of covering a range of vibes throughout its discography. For example, songs like “Quiet Houses,” from the band’s first album, use repetition and harmony to create that medieval church feel where songs like “She Got Dressed,” from the band’s first collection released in 2018, incorporates a heavier bass and a guitar riff along with a melody not dissimilar to something the Beach Boys might have sung in the ‘60s.
“Shore” packaged with an album cover featuring a cool-toned photograph of a wave that has just crashed over the beach While it certainly takes musical elements from past Fleet Foxes albums, like harmony and Robin Pecknold’s signature vocals, the album as a whole has a fresher sound. It seems a bit more in tune with this century while somehow still keeping the band’s original sound intact.
Lyrically, “Shore” shows immense growth when compared to the Fleet Foxes’ previous albums. Its first album, “Fleet Foxes,” released in 2008, incorporated lyrics mainly based on fables and tales. While seemingly simplistic, these poetic folk tale lyrics can require a lot of unpacking — take “White Winter Hymnal” for example. To me, this lyric style leaves something to be desired. There’s not too much room for interpretation and feeling in these lyrics, and I love music that feels like someone is telling me his or her life story — it allows me the opportunity to relate to someone and reflect on my own life. Over the years, Fleet Foxes have grown from these fable-inspired lyrics and developed a way of sharing more personal emotions and stories; however, “Shore” is probably the band’s best lyrical representation to date.
The lyrics from the newest album focus a lot on time, which seems super relevant in an era where time has practically frozen for six months. Songs like “A Long Way Past The Past,” “Young Man’s Game” and “I’m Not My Season” contemplate the construct of time and how we grow into ourselves over the course of years. Lyrically, these songs represent that Pecknold is no longer a 20-something kid — he’s a grown man who now experiences life through the eyes of such and can write about the past, present and future from this perspective.
Images of nature, specifically water, make many appearances throughout the record, which is fitting considering its title. The album’s opener, “Wading in Waist-High Water,” is a short, echoey ballad that mimics the sounds of a calm morning by the sea. Lyrically, it’s a bit ambiguous and difficult to unpack, but to the best that I can interpret it, the song uses imagery of water and fire along with the seasons to tell the story of a relationship between two people that has mutually faded over the course of summer. Again, time is a relevant theme. Overall, it’s a beautiful song that sets the tone for the rest of the album.
Matching the title of the album, the song “Shore,” is the closing piece. This song includes a beautiful introduction on the piano that compliments the opening piece of the album — it’s as though “Wading in Waist-High Water” is the record’s sunrise and “Shore” is its sunset.
While Fleet Foxes’ past albums have only offered me a few songs to fall in love with, this album offers 15 unique songs that all deserve a listen. “Can I Believe You,” “A Long Way Past The Past,” “Young Man’s Game” and “Going-to-the-Sun Road” are among my favorites. I give “Shore” 4/5 stars.