Shore is the fourth full-length release from Seattle indie/folk kings Fleet Foxes. Coming a scant three years after their last LP (Crack-Up) , Shore is the sunnier, more accessible sibling to that earlier release. Due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions that came from it, the band’s chief singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold essentially treated it as a solo album. Not only is he playing basically everything on the record (aside from some notable guest appearances like Grizzly Bear’s Christopher Bear and Daniel Rossen, Kevin Morby, and even Hamilton Leithauser’s kids) but he produced it as well. Shore was recorded in various studios over a period of a year with engineer Beatriz Artola and those studios included Aaron Dessner’s (The National) Long Pond Studio, Electro-Vox Studios in L.A. and even a short session at Studios St. Germain in Paris. There’s talk of a release of a further nine songs with the rest of the band in the near future on top of what we have here.

Interestingly, the first voice you hear on Shore isn’t even Pecknold’s. In fact it’s 21 year-old Columbia University student Uwade Akher, whom Pecknold found on a YouTube video singing a cover of Fleet Foxes’ fan favourite “Mykonos.” Though the tune starts with just Akher’s intimate vocal, it soon builds to include orchestral voices, military drums, and some added brass for good measure…a rousing start.

“Sunblind” is the most soothing and sunny elegy you’re likely to hear this year. Name checking the likes of Elliott Smith, David Berman, and Jimi Hendrix to name but a few, “Sunblind” finds Pecknold paying tribute to his deceased musical icons in the most comforting of tunes. As the jubilant tempo glides along, Pecknold sings of how he’s “gonna swim for a week in warm American water with dear friends”, a beautiful ode to the Silver Jews classic LP. Likewise, “Jara” acts as a musical honouring of slain Chilean folk singer Victor Jara…this time using a synthetic loop as a basis for a song that constantly builds into a steady groove.

The true genius of Pecknold is his ability to craft so many affecting vocal harmonies, and as usual they can be found littered all over Shore…a personal favourite for me is “Can I Believe You.” Though the song’s lyrical content hints at Pecknold’s inability to let people in, musically it feels as though that couldn’t be further from the truth…I mean he’s even got some 400 backing vocals (compliments of his Instagram invitation) on here for god’s sake!

No less moving are the exquisitely layered moments found on songs like “Featherweight,” where you can hear the textures of nimble acoustic picking and piano. Or how about the birdsong that can be heard at the tail-end of “For a Week or Two”, and the notable sample of Brian Wilson’s studio chatter that kicks off “Cradling Mother / Cradling Woman”…a song that Pecknold said is the most overdubbed that he has ever produced. It’s so appropriate that Wilson would appear on a Fleet Foxes album because it’s plainly obvious how much Pet Sounds has meant to the musical life of Robin Pecknold.

Fleet Foxes is a special band and Robin Pecknold is making music that few are capable or willing to make. Ever since their 2008 debut they have carved out a unique space within indie/ alternative rock with their majestic acoustic arrangements and multilayered vocal harmonies… and Shore is no different. This record seems very much related to Crack-Up in that it’s like a reaction to it; Crack-Up being a complex record in terms of arrangement and lyrical content, while Shore strives for ease of use in both the former and latter. Perhaps the best record of 2020!

-Johnny Hooper