Mojo – 10
The Independent – 10
Music OMH – 9
Q Magazine – 8
Uncut – 8
The Telegraph – 8
Independent On Sunday – 8
BBC Music – 8
The Guardian – 8
Drowned In Sound – 8
The Hackskeptic – 8
NME – 4
Average Rating 8.1/10
Track By Track Review
1 – Montezuma 8/10
Robin Pecknold’s vague lyrical musings often feel a perfect match for the sweeping pastoral picking and lush vocal harmonies, making for dream like stream of consciousness and homely comfort. “Montezuma” kicks off the album in fine style with signature performances from Pecknold and the band as the singer contemplates his life achievements in a falsetto melody that’s coloured in buy an echoed guitar and subtle rhythms. Musically, it’s possibly the closest ally to anything from their debut.
2 – Bedouin Dress 8/10
The album is far more adventurous than its predecessor and the combination of a mandolin and Arabic violin tune on “Bedouin Dress” draw the listener to Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” as an influence. The construction of the song is more complex than anything before, and Pecknold references Irish poet Yeats to further diversify the multi-national flavour of the song.
3 – Sim Sala Bim 8/10
There’s a continued Middle Eastern theme to “Sim Sala Bim”, which further recognises the intention to create a more explorative soundboard, and yet the song is still significantly spacious, gentle and knowingly plays to the band’s strengths.
4 – Battery Kinzie 7/10
The sunny vocal and upbeat rhythm defies the dark overtones of the song as Pecknold laments aging and the breakdown of the physical condition with the opening line “I woke up one morning, all my fingers rotten, I woke up a dying man without a chance”. Dark stuff.
5 – The Plains/ Bitter Dancer 8/10
The Crosby, Stills And Nash sound is never far away, but in this case the similarity is purely from a vocal perspective, as the song’s construction takes on distinctive movements and huge changes in timing. The arrangement develops from a lattice of lushly harmonised 60s folk with added string and woodwind instrumentation that travels from quietly introspective strumming to bursting psychedelia to fade out.
6 – Helplessness Blues 9/10
Pecknold casts his mind back to youthful ambitions for his personality and life to be unique, only for a reversal in adult life as he confesses “After some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery, sowing something behind me, but I don’t know what that will be”. The stark acoustic guitar accompaniment opens up to a middle eight that allows the band full weight to share the singer’s lonely burden. It’s brilliant in that the musical imagery is as strong as the message in conveying Pecknold’s obvious difficulty in coming to terms with fame.
7 – The Cascades 7/10
A flamenco guitar beats out a pretty tune as this instrumental momentarily eases the listener away from some of the density of this record. Mike Oldfield would have been proud.
8 – Lorelai 8/10
An interesting mix of guitar arpeggios and a twinkling glockenspiel play out to a waltz that provides the backing to a sad recall for lost love and regret. Again the lyrics are bleak, but the tune remains predictably beautiful.
9 – Someone You’d Admire 7/10
Similar sentiments of love are carried forward from “Lorelai”, but with a twisted duality of the destruction of a relationship by an equal portion of hate as Pecknold questions his position with “One of them wants only to be someone you’d admire, one would as soon just throw you on the fire”. Bitterness prevails over softly strummed acoustic guitar, naturally at odds with the barbed subject matter.
10 – The Shrine/ An Argument 10/10
Undoubtedly the most adventurous song the band have recorded in their short career, with Pecknold offering a more aggressive vocal performance, and the addition of an odd but compelling free jazz saxophone solo to fade out. The four distinct styles and movements within the song reveal that the band can transcend way beyond the confines of their traditional folk, and yet still make the most affecting music. Creatively the song carries mammoth complexities and yet sounds so naturally simple.
11 – Blue Spotted Tail 8/10
If Robin Pecknold recorded a solo record, then “Blue Spotted Tail” gives us some idea as to how it would sound. Plaintive balladry with the singer’s voice high in the mix, there’s a drifting Paul Simon influence to this tune contemplating relationships and mortality.
12 – Grown Ocean 8/10
Pecknold saves his most overt display of lyrical optimism for this closer as he acknowledges the glorious journey he’s undertaken with some of the strongest harmonies on this collection. There’s a dreamlike quality and the lines are delivered with a languid contemplative air of satisfaction with the world.