Fleet Foxes – “Third Of My/Odaigahara” Track Review
Six years is a hell of a lay off. The wait is made all the more infuriating by the fact that “Third Of May/Odaigahara” sounds so bloody effortless, as if Fleet Foxes rocked up one morning and picked up exactly where they left off. Except, well, that isn’t really true. While the band’s comeback single has the sophistication, tonal warmth and divine timbre of the music that established the band across two stunning LPs, it has none of the tension that riddled 2011’s Helplessness Blues. On “Third Of May/Odaigahara”, Fleet Foxes sound more relaxed, organic and in tune with nature than at any prior point.
This is not to suggest that the Father John Misty-less Fleet Foxes are now blissed out hippies wearing broad smiles and watching the world pass them by. Instead, their comeback single is a wildly diverse work that embraces experimentation (and darkness) at every turn. The summer shades and optimism of its plucky opening section soon recedes as bleaker memories and harsher tones infect the narrative and arrangement respectively.
The “Third Of May” is a double reference point for the band. It’s the date that their last album was released and the birthday of guitarist Skyler Skjelset. The track therefore details the relationships between Skyler and fellow founder member Robin Pecknold, albeit in metaphorical terms not blighted the occasional dose of specificity (“was I too slow? Did you change over night?…I’m reminded of the time, it all fell in line, on the Third of May”).
The story may be full of twist and turns, speaking to both endurance and self-doubt, but the star of the show is undoubtedly the composition. The thrills are endless and diverse: from the purity of the vocal that reaches out like a sunbeam at the outset to the clattering psychedelic transition that sounds reminiscent of a landfill indie band being thrown down a flight of stairs. Then, suddenly, all the lightness of touch is gone and density chokes out everything (with the bassy backing vocals proving particular disturbing in this context).
Silence is another key weapon in this eight-minute onslaught. Whenever the density disperses, the listener is caught of guard and met either by sweetness or the surreal. In the final portion of the track, when the narrative is at its end, time seemingly folds in on itself as it grinds to halt. Instruments rattle, eeking forward, before being rapidly wound back, and the whole song appears stuck in a beautiful, if entirely unsettling, limbo.
Trying to imagine “Third Of May/Odaigahara” being played from the main stage of any major festival is next to impossible (audiences are certainly in for shock after the first two minutes), but for all its daunting eccentricities, the comeback single remains an evocative masterstroke. An illuminating glimpse into something so hard to say, it proves better expressed with the vagaries of abstract instrumentation: the cheery psych wash, the psychotically tense stabbing strums of electric guitar, the eerie stray acoustic plucks, the ominous crashes and the schizophrenic harmonies (one minute so optimistic, the next so despondent) – all make for an ever-changing Rorschach test that the listener can interpret at their own peril.