Following Fleet Foxes' transcendence into folk rock royalty with 2008's Sun Giant EP and Fleet Foxes, followed by 2011's Helplessness Blues, the then Seattle based sextet suddenly vanished into thin air. Front man Robin Pecknold fell off the grid, subsequently failing to release the follow up to Helplessness Blues, then-drummer Josh Tillman ditched the backwood drum patterns for a God-like solo career as Father John Misty, mandolinist/guitarist Skye Skjelset formed his own identity with his self-promoted label Skyler Skjelset Music, and the other remaining band members went on to playing and recording with dozens of other projects and bands. As Fleet Foxes had suddenly been ripped from every indie-lover's brain, Pecknold embarked on a collegiate journey at Columbia University in New York City. Following a five year hiatus and a fulfilling journey of academia and self discovery, Pecknold and Co. have returned with their official follow up to Helplessness Blues: Crack-Up.

At times like these, more artists attempt to return to the limelight, with most failing to make a lasting impression as they had done in their younger years. But for Robin Pecknold, these dumbed-down days of the world seemed to be the ideal time to return. What has came with their re-emergence is an extremely complex, richly composed master stroke. In a sense, Crack-Up is a pastiche of of the artistic, literary, and musical influences that have been simmering in Pecknold's head. Displaying both a higher level of awareness and artistic integrity, Fleet Foxes come out of Crack-Up not just a trendy, critically acclaimed band, but a staple of American indie music, pleasing the culturally obsessed and music snobs alike. Crack-Up might not please all old fans, and it might not be something that draws in many new fans, either, but rather, it will be enjoyed most by those who are devoted to a progressive scene that helps you forget about the pop-focused dilemma we're living in.

Crack-Up's instrumentation is sharper, blended together best in the unraveling three-for-one songs, like the opening 'I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar', which is composed to be as disorganized as it is brilliant. It's like a musical mosaic tile that incorporates influences of Appalachian Mountains, monstrous wave crashes off the coast of Washington, and off-beat twentieth century Japanese culture. Judging from the song titles themselves, it's clear that Pecknold is, not only more educated, but more aware of the history of the world. 'Cassius-' is an ode to the Roman family name, '- Naiads, Cassadies' reflects the mythological female water nymphs from Greece, acting as a living ode to the relationship of men and women. 'Third of May/Ōdaigahara' tilts it's cap to the Japanese Mount Ōdaigahara, while the moody 'Mearcstapa' is based off of the epic Beowulf, in the headspace of Grendel. That's only the beginning - the album cover itself, with its mystifying storm brewing atop a cliff, is actually a famous piece of Japanese photography. Captured by Hiroshi Hamaya, the original photo is titled 'Eroded Sea Cliff at Tōjinbō, Early Winter, Fukui Prefecture', a 1960 photograph that captures both the beauty and the terror that comes with a stormy coastline. When asked about the album cover in an interview, Pecknold had stated that the sliver of light in the top right corner meant that, no matter what is happening currently, the storm will always pass. On reading that, in this day and age, it seemed to me to be unconvincing - until my first listen to Crack-Up.

Although Crack-Up might not be Fleet Foxes' most accessible record, it is in fact their most relevant to the progress of the world. Mandolins are ditched for string sections, and traditional compositions are ditched for lengthier, multi-dimensional vignettes into Pecknold's cerebrum. In more ways than one, Crack-Up acts as a naturally shattered mosaic masterpiece, covering every inch of Pecknold's talents and capabilities. Not quite as rustic as their previous efforts, it's definitely more atmospheric. Fleet Foxes return with a grand, theatrical approach to music as a whole, and although they reminisce on their grand, prog-folk glory days, Crack-Up as a musical statement is genre-less. Not just the literal music, but Pecknold's vocals as well - 'I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar', with Pecknold whispering throughout, sounds like a modern day combination of Chet Baker and Elliot Smith, cooing away until the flying acoustics bring his voice back up to speed.

The transitions on Crack-Up might be the most compelling chunk of the album: On 'Cassius, -' the bridge's bass line harmonizes with Pecknold's voice organically, while the criss-crossing of 'On Another Ocean (January / June)' focuses on the strengths of his abstract orchestrations. In addition to these flawless transitions, on each track, Pecknold pours his gentle heart out gratuitously, exposing the listener to quite possibly every emotion there is to feel - sadness to sheer joy, mental growth to emptiness, and even emotional deprivation, all tangled together in a way that only Pecknold is capable of.

It's no secret by now that Pecknold, much like My Morning Jacket front man Jim James, has built up a certain mystique with his angelic bellows - and with some age and time passing, Pecknold's voice has become more powerful than ever before. However, even though his vocals have grown, his knack for mesmerizing hooks falls short on Crack-Up, but is simply replaced by harmonious experimentation, giving Fleet Foxes the proper edge to further their career as artists. As for the actual songs, sure, we might never get another 'Blue Ridge Mountains' or 'Mykonos', but what we've got instead is something more enrapturing than any previous work of Fleet Foxes.

More charming than ever before, Fleet Foxes' return with Crack-Up is a major step for the band, contriving a brand new era of divine melodies and break through compositions. Although fans may have been fussy about the wait, or forgot about Fleet Foxes as they grew over their five-year hiatus, Crack-Up proves not only is breathing room necessary for some bands, but more importantly: some things are really worth the wait.