EDITOR’S NOTE: As album releases slow down in December, we like to catch our breath and write about albums that came out earlier in the year that we didn’t get a chance to review but we think are worthy of your attention. Shore was released (as a surprise!) in September.
It could have easily been a continuation of the year’s somber mood when Fleet Foxes surprise-released their fourth full-length album, Shore, on Sept. 22, but like some kind of cosmic gift, it was the opposite. Led by the powerhouse vocal force that is Robin Pecknold, Shore turned a corner for Fleet Foxes, a band known for the kind of ennui best suited for long, solitary walks pondering our purposelessness. It is a blissful, euphoric set that provides a proper dose of endorphins and gratitude. A joyous, sun-drenched ode to living intentionally, relishing the natural beauty around us, and embracing alone time, Shore was a breath of fresh air in a time that felt stagnant and uncertain.
It is no coincidence that Shore feels like a true “pandemic record.” Though Pecknold began writing it in 2018 and recording in 2019, most of the lyrics didn’t take shape until this spring, when his process was suddenly interrupted and he was, like the rest of the world, in a kind of forced isolation. It wasn’t until June that the lyrics that would come to bring comfort to so many finally took shape. Long drives through the country and incredible amounts of time spent alone lent Pecknold the inspiration he needed, in addition to such singular musical heroes as Richard Swift and Arthur Russell. Pecknold set out to write an album about being present, and ultimately ended up with something rooted so specifically in a time. This isn’t to say Shore isn’t also a timeless record that we will turn to again and again. It just also happens to be a perfectly suited soundtrack to this tumultuous year.
Working everywhere from upstate New York, to St. Germain, France, to Los Angeles and back to New York; with numerous collaborators; and incorporating the sounds of such iconic instruments as Fela Kuti’s organ and the vibraphone from Pet Sounds, Pecknold and his band found stability in the transient creation of Shore. It is heard so distinctly in standout songs like the exhilarating “Sunblind” and the soaring melancholy of “Can I Believe You.” Across Shore’s pastoral, dreamy arrangements, Pecknold sings of the sweet, simple joy in swimming with friends, listening to his favorite records, and the undeniable hope that comes with the changing of the seasons — the warmth of sunlight on his face and the blush of cold cheeks in the winter. He sits in the discomfort of self-doubt, maybe slowly emerging from it as he gets older. He aches for human contact, but finds peace in knowing we’re all aching together. There is more than just a heady sense of self in Shore, there is humanity. “May the last long year be forgiven,” Pecknold sings softly in “Featherweight.” Here’s hoping.