Last Fall, one of my favorite 21st century bands, Fleet Foxes, dropped a pleasant surprise on it’s fans with a new album pre-released in the digital domain. Shore was a much needed sonic elixir amidst the dark of the pandemic. Beauty and solace dancing hand in hand with fear and uncertainty, presented at a time when our world was escalating into madness and fear. It felt just right then… and it still feels right today…
Previously, I reviewed Shore based on the digital streams on Tidal and Qobuz which you can read by clicking here. My positive feelings towards this album have not changed – if anything they’ve grown over the course of the last six months as the music has worked its way into the back spaces of my mind much in the way that its predecessor, Crack Up, did in 2017 (my favorite album that year, by the way)
Along the way the band offered a pre-order for Shore on vinyl which I promptly put my dibs in. The album was supposed to arrive a couple months ago but things were delayed as is the case of most new releases these days given the pandemic scenario.
We all have to just be patient…
Now, maybe its just my bias towards physical media, but one thing was gnawing at me in the back of my head: the album didn’t feel quite “real” without knowing that a physical version of it had been released. So finally getting Shore “in hand” was almost a sign of relief and release. (fanboy thoughts: ‘Yes…. At last its here… yes… its a real album!’)
The good news is that Shore on vinyl was worth the wait. My special edition on ocean blue colored vinyl arrived a few days ago and while the pressing is not perfect, I’m generally not disappointed. In fact, I’m overall quite happy and even at times elated! The album is mostly dead quiet even though it’s on translucent teal blue vinyl (I’ve noticed that clear vinyl variants can sound harsher than opaque colors). The record sounds quite warm and rich even when you turn up the volume on your amplifier.
I did find two nits to pick, however. One annoyance for me is that one disc is pressed a little off center. Why this matters has to do with the kind of music Fleet Foxes has produced here: soaring SMiLEs of instruments including pianos and horns, big strumming acoustic guitar feel flows, underlying cool cool chordal waters and ambient surf’s up soundscapes. Shore is the kind of music where even a little bit of wavering can create audible tonal fluctuations. I admit that this is not a big deal for many people but to me it is important. It is also evidence on just how I’ve internalized this music to where I can notice the differences when they happen.
On side two there were a couple very very brief groove distortion sounds that came through but they were so subtle I really shouldn’t even make a point of calling them out… but… well… I guess I have a responsibility to be honest to you, Dear Readers, as much as to myself.
Those little dings aside, in generally I’m happy how the album sounds on vinyl. Shore is one of those albums you can enjoy at full volume or softly on a lazy sunny afternoon.
Maybe I’m reading too much between the lines but this new version of Shore makes me wonder if the whole album was crafted with vinyl in mind (vs. the streams on Tidal and Qobuz). One could I argue that I just like the sound of vinyl but I think they had to work some wizardry making this a consistent great sounding record given it was made in three different studios in New York — including Jimi Hendrix’ legendary Electric Lady Studios — as well as one in Paris! So, kudos to recording/mixing engineer Beatriz Artola (Adele, Ce Lo Green, Tegan & Sarah, Ryan Adams, etc.) and mastering engineer Joe Laporta (the latter of Sterling Sound).
I still can’t get over a track like “Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman” (second to last song on Side 3) which simultaneously channels David Crosby’s title track from the second CSNY album Deja Vu and any number of songs by Beirut and Philip Glass and David Byrne’s Knee Plays and… well… you get the idea.
It is a pulsing, mesmerizing, shimmering, horns ’n sparkling guitars collision that works together to form a quite perfect pop symphony.
The cover art on Shore is also a pleasant surprise as it works beautifully as a full sized album. As a tiny digital JPEG we see on streaming services and online retailers, it doesn’t work quite so well. But in its large format glory, the patterned cross hatching of sea foam against an isolated beach is haunting.
It is a lovely package, as detailed on Fleet Foxes’ website:
“Shore arrives on vinyl as a 2xLP set encased in an Old Style Double Gatefold Jacket with black polybags and 24”x24” poster insert, printed at Stoughton Printing Company. Side D features an etching of fifteen hand drawn flora by visual artist Dino Matt, each tied to one of the album’s fifteen songs. The album’s cover, front and back, showcases artwork by Japanese photographer Hiroshi Hamaya and design by Benjamin Tousley with Robin Pecknold.”
This is also one of those three-sided albums that doesn’t feel like you are missing anything by not having a fourth side. It feels just right. And the fourth side with its lovely art etchings is really a perfect complement to the music.
Looking forward, I hope that someday Fleet Foxes’ leader Robin Pecknold would remix all their albums into surround sound… that would be some kinda sonic bliss I suspect…
I noticed on the cover of Shore that there is some cryptic wording which says “IV. Rising Phase.” While it could simply be a notation that this is Fleet Foxes fourth album, it’s vagueness reminds me of the sort of hints Robert Fripp (King Crimson) would drop in liner notes (and interviews), talking about his “Drive to 1981” and such…
That said, I look forward to Phase V of Fleet Foxes’ journey…