I first listened to the new Fleet Foxes record, Shore, on a drive back from the ocean. It was the Autumn Equinox, and a golden light drenched the sand dunes and the salt marshes that lined the coast of Maine. As I watched the blur of red maples pass by my windshield – their crowns burning in the early Autumnal light – I felt an intimate connection to the sounds emanating from my car speakers: a wash of colors, a choir of hums, a transcendental homage to Summer.
Recorded over the span of two years in various studios around the world (from Long Island to Paris), the record came together in September as a patchwork quilt of sounds, words, and textures. Inspired by artists such as Arthur Russell, Nina Simone, and Sam Cooke, frontman Robin Pecknold’s goal was to make an album that would celebrate life in the face of death, as his musical heroes had done.
“I see “shore” as a place of safety on the edge of something uncertain, staring at Whitman’s waves reciting ‘death,’” commented Pecknold. “Tempted by the adventure of the unknown at the same time you are relishing the comfort of the stable ground beneath you. This was the mindset I found, the fuel I found, for making this album.”
Suited perfectly for its time, Shore is a eulogy for times past and a tentative peek into what the future might hold. At times quietly meditative and at other times euphoric and unharnessed, the collection of fifteen songs create a world that escapes the anxiety of the present, while still acknowledging the suffering that so many are experiencing. We see this in “Sunblind,” a sparkling folk-pop anthem that remembers artists gone but not forgotten (among them John Prine, Bill Withers, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and Richard Swift), while reveling in life’s little triumphs.
Tying the record together are sounds of the ocean, tastefully woven into hymnal vocal arrangements and quietly intellectual lyrics. We see this in “For A Week Or Two,” where the lush acoustic swells evoke the soporific rhythms of the shore. Poetic in its laconicism, the mesmerizing ode to the ocean transports its listeners into a world where “water stands / waves just pass through it / like something moves through you.”
Over the breathtaking orchestral arrangements and the mottling of found sounds are the massive, celestial harmonies that have become a Fleet Foxes trademark. And as if Robin Pecknold’s vocals weren’t enough to sweep the listener off their feet, a number of other noteworthy artists appear on the record, from Kevin Morby’s sweeping melodies accompanying “Sunblind,” to Brian Wilson’s Beach Boys harmonies sampled on “Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman.”
Vulnerable, expansive, and bright, Shore may be the Fleet Foxes’ most impressive work to date. But in all its majestic glory, it speaks to a simple human need: the safety of shore – the comfort of seeing even a glimpse of land from rough waters.