Fleet Foxes return with the sprawling “Third of May / Ōdaigahara”

2011 was a long time ago. President Obama was still in the midst of his first term and we hadn’t even begun to think about Mitt Romney’s “binder full of women” or worse, Donald Trump as a serious politician. That was also the last time we heard a sound from Fleet Foxes, who followed up their nearly perfect 2007 debut that year with the more expansive Helplessness Blues. But that was it. Still don’t think it’s been too long? Consider former drummer Josh Tillman, who records as Father John Misty, will have released three albums in the time between LPs for his former band. So, there. Minus the occasional Soundcloud upload, Robin Pecknold and company were set aside as the music scene they helped popularize gave way to Top 40-aping tracks from the Lumineers and Phillip Phillips, songs that checked the boxes of what the Fleet Foxes were doing musically with none of the nuance or personality.

But that was then. While you’ve probably forgotten about “Ho Hey” and “Home,” chances are you still remember “White Winter Hymnal” and “Helplessness Blues.” And this week, Fleet Foxes finally announced their new album in six years, Crack Up, with the release of new single “Third of May.” The song takes cues from their expansive 2011 LP, but where that one felt purposefully refined, this new one bursts at the seems with unbridled enthusiasm. There’s an unpredictability here I can’t remember feeling from past Fleet Foxes releases, as if the band is discovering these notes and melodies in real time. When the song segues into “Ōdaigahara,” we get a better feel for the Fleet Foxes as they were, with the instrumental crawling through the blue ridge mountains. The song is a document of Pecknold’s friendship with founding bandmate Skyler Skjelset, and by focusing on the internal, Fleet Foxes reach their furthest expanse.

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