Crack-Up – Fleet Foxes

Folk

It has been a long six years since Fleet Foxes released their last album Helplessness Blues. This was the last glance we had of Fleet Foxes before they decided to hang up their hats for more than half a decade. While many people initially questioned the future of Fleet Foxes, here we are in 2017 listening to a long-awaited follow-up to their beloved Helplessness Blues. For many it is a welcomed return of a band that occupies their own unique space in a crowded and convoluted era of music.

Six years is a long time. Think about your place in life six years ago; there’s a good chance that things were quite a bit different; I know they were for me. People change, lives change, people evolve and mature, and our external environment, the world in which we live in, changes to. Undoubtedly, the members of Fleet Foxes are no more immune to the effects of the passing of time then you or me. Evidence of this can be heard loud and clear on the latest Fleet Foxes effort Crack-Up.

On Crack-Up you will still hear much of what you love about the Fleet Foxes. The album is riddled with beautiful melodies and harmonies, complex instrumentals, and Pecknold’s vocal ability and range remain as good as ever. The folk-soul sound that Fleet Foxes fans have fallen in love with also remains stable. Long-time Fleet Foxes fans and newbies alike will find Crack-Up easily accessible thanks to the consistency of Pecknold and crew.

While Fleet Foxes manage to keep much of what people love about their original formula they not afraid to venture into new territory. In more than one aspect Crack-Up is a very different album then any of its predecessors. Crack-Up is much more of an emotional journey. Through its 55 minutes Crack-Up is tragic, enlightened, sad, beautiful, tranquil, expansive and so much more. This emotional progression reflects back upon the concept of the passing of time, a theme found often in folk music.

Crack-Up does some things very well. On Crack-Up Fleet Foxes master the concept of negative space. For each and every burst of music there exists a void. Much like Fleet Foxes own journey as a band. There are moments on Crack-Up that are tranquil, quiet, and serene and each one is filled with such beauty. This record is composed in such a way that makes it feel like one seamless piece of music rather than individual songs. Like a good painting, Crack-Up’s biggest accomplishment is in the way it forces you to interpret its various parts.

Crack-Up has its obvious stand-outs. The singles that were offered pre-release, Third of May/Odiagahara and Fool’s Errand, are good examples of this. These songs do well standing on their own two feet and are the closest thing to a White Winter Hymnal or Mykonos you will find on this album. They serve as pillars alongside the other songs that help bind the album together. –Naiads, Cassadies (one of my current favorites off this album) and Kept Woman do well to act as a harmonic bridge between the album’s opener and centerpiece. Crack-Up succeeds in making you feel that every song is in its right place. The album’s pace and flow are perfect. This is a credit to the album’s composition. It is constructed in a way that makes it feel whole.

So where do the Fleet Foxes go from here? Crack-Up feels very much like the beginning of a new chapter for Pecknold and crew and already Robin is talking about the future. It sounds like the band is going to be a lot more active in making music in the coming years. Fleet Foxes have shown through Crack-Up that they are not afraid of progression and we will undoubtedly continue to see this in their future efforts.

Robin Pecknold has been busy the past six years with his work at Columbia University, staying active on social media, and most certainly soul-searching. His spiritual progression can be heard on Crack-Up; his most intellectual album to date. What’s even more evident is that Robin and crew seem more comfortable than ever before. Fleet Foxes really feel at home on Crack-Up and I know that I can speak for many when I say that we are happy to have them back. In a sense, Crack-Up represents the passing of time better than any album I have heard in the past. It remains retrospective while ushering in a new era for Fleet Foxes and masterfully embraces the present. I don’t think this album would have the same effect if it was not for the six years of negative space.

See you next week.

Station to Station – David Bowie

Classic Rock/Funk-Rock

Station to Station is commonly regarded as a rock n’ roll masterpiece. This album is not only one of Bowie’s most unique and adventurous albums but also one of his most fabled. Recorded in 1975, released in 1976 and incredibly fun to listen to in 2017 Station to Station is a product of Bowie during one his most turbulent eras. Station is a consistently shifting, electrifying, and provocative performance fueled by sensational creativity and lots and lots of cocaine. This record transcends generations and is a must own for any rock n’ roll enthusiast.

Station to Station was recorded in Los Angeles during what has been described as a drug fueled psychotic episode. The Thin White Duke was apparently involved in all kinds of weird shit during this time and has little recollection of any of it. I even remember reading that Bowie had absolutely no memory of recording this album. Los Angeles seemed to evoke the most extreme in Bowie and after he left to return to Europe he was quoted as saying that the city should be wiped off the face of the earth. It is both strange and intriguing that such a magnificent piece of music resulted from such chaos.

In musical terms Station to Station is engaging. Racking in at 6 tracks, 38 minutes the album is fairly short with no wasted space. The album constantly changes shape through funky, serenading, and rockin’ refrains. Those who like Bowie at his funkiest will have a lot to enjoy here.

Bowie was really experimental with the recording of Station to Station. This record was produced during the era where Bowie was testing differing electronic elements and instrumental manipulations. Station is heavily synthesized in a way that helped evolve Bowie’s craft at the time and helped usher in a new era for him. Unlike many albums from that time Station to Station in no way sounds archaic. To this day I hear contemporary and ground-breaking music when I listen to Station and I feel that I always will.

The album starts off with the 10 minute title track Station to Station; a segmented track that evolves from experimental noise into funkier and funkier portions. Accompanying Bowie’s outstanding singing are ripping guitar solos, piano glissandos, and grooving basslines. By the end of the song you will most defiantly be playing air drums, guitar or bass so make sure you are aware of your surroundings and try not to hurt anyone.

Track two on the record is a Bowie familiar: Golden Years. What more can I say about Golden Years that has not already been said? It is a song seemingly about focusing on the actual and enjoying the best years of life; who can’t relate to that? Golden Years is yet another soulful jam (full of plenty of whops) and is undoubtedly the biggest hit off this album.

One of my personal favorites off Station is TVC15; a track loaded with swing piano and Elvis-esque vocals. The song was apparently influenced by Iggy Pop’s drug fueled hallucination where he believed that a TV set was attempting to eat his girlfriend. Bowie created the antagonist TCV15 for the track… or I guess you can say that Iggy did technically. Regardless, this track is really fun and I like to think of it as the centerpiece of the album.

Station to Station is a must own for any Bowie enthusiast. This is almost not even worth saying because surely all Bowie enthusiasts already own this record. If you do not, now is a good time to run over to your local record shop and pick one up on vinyl. With Station not only do we get to experience Bowie during one of his craziest time periods but we get a lively and inspired record that will cause you to reflect and dance at the same time; I guess Bowie had a habit of doing that.

See you next week.

The Definitive Collection – J.J. Cale

Classic Rock / Blues

If you continue to read my blog there is a good chance you will not see me post another collection or “best of” album for a long time. I am just not big on them. They are so often hit or miss. Many best of albums pick all of the most popular hits from the artists library and put them all together on one disc while leaving out some truly great songs that may be equally (or more) deserving. All of this being said I could not resist posting about J.J. Cale’s 1997 album The Definitive Collection which successfully focuses on his best work. This is a collection album that really deserves to be listened to.

Many of you may already know at least two of Cale’s songs on this collection; Cocaine and After Midnight which were both famously covered and popularized by Eric Clapton. Aside from these two familiars there are so many other songs to love on this 20 song, one hour album.

This album truly highlights Cale’s one of a kind rock/blues/Americana/country (with a touch of Cajun!) sound that has since been known as Tulsa Sound after Cale’s hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Much of Clapton’s music is also categorized as Tulsa Sound. Additionally, the two artists had very intertwined careers both through influencing each other and recording quite a bit of music together including the Grammy award winning 2006 album The Road to Escondido.

I usually post two songs at the end of my write-up here for you to listen to and I have to say that choosing the songs this week was not easy; there are so many gems here. I will not post Cocaine or After Midnight because so many of you are already familiar with those songs. I will tell you that some of my personal favorites besides Cocaine and After Midnight include Magnolia, Lies, Cajun Moon, I’ll Make Love to You Anytime, and Mama Don’t. One puzzling omission on this album is Cale’s Traveling Light which is one of his best songs and was later covered and further popularized by Widespread Panic. With all of the quality music here I think I can forgive them for that!

See you next week.