If you're still sitting on the fence about Fleet Foxes, here's all you need to know about the Seattle troupe's third album, Crack-Up. It opens not with one song, or two, but with three - a proggy, multi-suite effort called I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint.

It's a song that moves from a grumpy mumble to a triumphant celebration with soaring strings and whispered falsettos while veering through almost every mood imaginable - and then back again. At times it sounds like two completely different songs fighting to be heard over each other.

But, running at nearly seven minutes, it's not even the longest track on Fleet Foxes' 11-track third record. That honour is bestowed on Third of May/Odaigahara, Crack-Up's centrepiece that runs for more than eight minutes and cycles through just as many moodswings but - crucially - never once outstays its welcome.

Written entirely by front man Robin Pecknold, Crack-Up is the six-years-in-the-making follow-up to 2011's Helplessness Blues, a genre-defying album delivered at indie-folk's peak that paved the way for, well, banjo-loving stadium folksters like Mumford and Sons. Ugh.


This seems to be Pecknold's response, and those six years show: songs like Cassius and Mearcstapa sound as if they've been ached over, painstakingly pieced together and layered up to become the most epic versions of themselves they can be.

As for the lyrics, Pecknold is diving deep. Real deep. Mearcstapa references Beowulf, I Should See Memphis refers to an American Civil War, and on Naiads, Cassadies he talks about a "thief who shaves your teeth" and includes this incredible couplet: "Fire can't doubt its heat / Water can't doubt its power." You may need to Google those. I did.

Pretentious? Yes, but Crack-Up's knotty tangles are a hell of a lot of fun to unravel. And, crucially, Pecknold hasn't forgotten how warm and cosy and alive a great Fleet Foxes song can make you feel. And that's exactly what they do on Kept Woman, a soothing ballad which leaves you feeling so toasty you may want to crack open a bag of marshmallows around an open fire to celebrate.

Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up

Label: Nonesuch
Verdict: This is a messy knot that needs untangling