Music Mondays (7-10-17): Fleet Foxes and Portugal. The Man

This is Music Mondays, a weekly music column.

There were so many high-profile releases in June that I couldn’t get to all of them in time. So, in order to catch up, I reviewed Lorde’s “Melodrama” and 311’s “Mosaic” last week, and this week, I’ll be reviewing Fleet Foxes’ “Crack-Up” and Portugal. The Man’s “Woodstock”.

Fleet Foxes, “Crack-Up” Review

Fleet Foxes, "Crack-Up" Album Cover
Source: Genius

Fleet Foxes’ “Crack-Up” is an extremely complex album. The folk band’s lyrics are both political and heartfelt. The music is dense, layered with guitars, piano, string sections, and the band’s famous harmonies. Many songs are linear, which means they defy typical songwriting structure like choruses. Other songwriting experiments include musical suites, where one song contains multiple movements, each with their own distinct sound. Even when these songs are not suites, many effortlessly flow into the next song, making “Crack-Up” feel like a very cohesive project.

These qualities make the album hard to initially appreciate. Without a focus on choruses or catchy musical hooks, the folk band does not show any desire to write pop-influenced music.

Additionally, it’s easy to miss the message of the lyrics if one is not carefully listening to them. The production of the vocals is often too quiet, making vocalist Robin Pecknold hard to make out. The end of opener “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar” and closer “Crack-Up” are good examples of this.

Despite its complex nature, if one is willing to put in the time for “Crack-Up”, they will find a hauntingly beautiful album deserving of their attention.

Pecknold’s lyrics are as thoughtful and poetic as ever. “Aren’t we made to be crowded together, like leaves?” (from “Third of May / Ōdaigahara“) is one of my favorite lyrics from the album.

Every song requires multiple listens to truly understand their meaning. The opening suite I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar” finds the singer alone and without his former lover, which explains the first movement’s title. “Cassius, -” is about police brutality, and songs like “If You Need To, Keep Time on Me” and “Crack-Up” contains lyrics about the current presidency.

The orchestral strings on “Crack-Up” deserve recognition. They appear on many songs, which makes “Crack-Up” feel even more grand and ambitious.

Fleet Foxes’ “Crack-Up” will not be for everyone. Some may find it to be too obtuse to truly enjoy. But those willing to mine its complexities will find an album full of thoughtful lyrics, beautiful harmonies, and a cohesive folk sound that ties the project together.

While the sound of the band hasn’t changed much since their first album, “Crack-Up” proves Fleet Foxes is still willing to experiment and create complex, musical art pieces. I recommend giving it a chance.

Portugal. The Man, “Woodstock” Review

Portugal. The Man, "Woodstock" Album Cover
Source: Consequence of Sound

Unlike the famous and historic 1969 music festival from which it gets its name, Portugal. The Man’s “Woodstock” is uninteresting. While the band claims they were inspired by the politically charged nature of the titular festival, the lyrics of “Woodstock” largely come off as generic pop-rock fodder.

There are some good tracks on this record, but it’s neither “thrilling” nor “gritty”, which is how the album is described in its official description. The album often feels tired and uninspired, with the band burning through multiple genres in an attempt to break into the mainstream. The band experiments with EDM (“Easy Tiger”) and hip-hop influenced sounds (“Mr. Lonely”, “Noise Pollution”), but much of the album falls somewhere on the pop-rock spectrum.

I enjoyed the sound of some songs. Opener “Number One” has a strong bass line. “Feel It Still” is a very catchy radio hit and also has a great bass line. “Live in the Moment” is begging to be sung along to at a concert. I also enjoyed the smooth, slow pace of “So Young”.

While the production of these songs is quite good, the same cannot be said for other tracks. “Easy Tiger”, with its warped lyrics and electronic sections, is by far the worst track on “Woodstock”. “Noise Pollution” lives up to its name, as it simply has too much going on in terms of vocals and instrumentation to be enjoyed.

In terms of its lyrics, some songs are politically charged and have interesting lyrics. “Live leak the revolution, go stream it now on demand, new world distribution” is a good example from “Noise Pollution”. While some songs are lyrically interesting, many lack any bite or true message. “Rich Friends” is an uninspired song about rich kids using “daddy’s” money for drugs and alcohol. The hook of “Keep On” is just “All day long, bangin’ my head against the wall”. Just like this chorus, much of “Woodstock” is lyrically boring.

Viewing the final product, with Portugal. The Man trying to make “music with a message”, while also trying to appeal to the masses with a more mainstream sound, “Woodstock” just sounds generic. It’s certainly not the fiery project that is implied by its album cover.  It lacks any distinct personality. While songs like “Feel It Still” and “Live in the Moment” are fun, radio-ready cuts, much of the album fails to stick out as something special.

If Portugal. The Man wishes to stick with their new, approachable pop-rock sound, they show promise on “Woodstock”. But the band needs to demonstrate more focus in their sound and give more thought in their lyrics in order to come across as anything but generic.

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