Fleet Foxes’ “Third of May / Ōdaigahara” begins as if we arrived in the middle of a show, unannounced – crashing in with drums and hearty acoustic chords atop Robin Pecknold’s all-too-appropriate line of “light ended the night / but the song remained.” Clocking in at nearly nine minutes, it covers a lot of ground. It has all the makings of a modern rock epic, ebbing and flowing through different styles and signatures across three totally different sections. The aforementioned opening partition has more of a classic Fleet Foxes charm, with fluttering acoustic guitars and earnestly sung passages like “aren’t we made to be crowded together, like leaves?” Compared to what is to come however, it’s merely an appetizer.
The song’s pinnacle arrives with its second section, and its first obvious transition in tone. On the fourth verse when Pecknold sings “can I be light and free?”, the urgency of the entire song kicks into high gear, amping up the crescendoing guitars while the percussion responds at a furious pace. It feels like the score to an existential revelation, and that might be just what Fleet Foxes are going for when Robin sings out his penned poetry: “But all will fade. All I say. All I needed.” Fleet Foxes have always had a flair for crafting pieces that gradually surge with emotion, and “Third of May / Ōdaigahara” delivers once again. The length might appear daunting at first, but it’s necessary in order to flesh out all three unique phases of the experience. The final few minutes are made up of a gorgeously composed and all instrumental outro, featuring earth tone acoustics and a drum/guitar interplay that feels like an expedition into dense, foggy woodlands. Across the track’s multiple distinct frames, it does one hell of a job of stringing together Fleet Foxes’ most attractive qualities into one epic rocker.
Fleet Foxes are one of the most revered bands in indie-folk for a reason, and some of the ideas shown on “Third of May” take their renowned formula in a more expansive/progressive direction. It’s a big reason that 2017’s Crack-Up marked the band’s third straight masterpiece, and helped to elevate Fleet Foxes as only the third band – alongside mewithoutYou and Brand New – to see a double entry on this decade list.