Category Archives: Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

4/5

2011

There were a lot of indie folk outfits in the 2000s, but while many of them adopted an intimate, Nick Drake/Paul Simon-inspired sound, Fleet Foxes went the other way. Drawing from as many classic rockers like Crosby, Stills & Nash as pop tunesmiths like the Beach Boys, the group, led by Robin Pecknold, creates music that’s expansive as the wilderness, steeped in the grand American folk tradition. Their eponymous debut enjoyed enormous acclaim and popularity, and it would have been easy for the band to simply send off another batch of songs that repeated the same formula: shimmering, intricate guitars; gorgeous harmonies and the sort of reverb that sounds as if it were recorded on a mountain range.

Well, after a nearly three-year silence, Fleet Foxes return with Helplessness Blues, and to a certain extent, that’s exactly what they deliver. But while “Montezuma” and “Sim Sala Bim” offer just enough familiarity to remind you why the band is special, the album primarily shows the band growing in subtle, expressive ways. It also shows Pecknold’s recently been spending a lot more time with his British folk records than his American ones. Some piano and glockenspiel here, more pronounced violin and flute there, they even flirt more heavily with progressive song structures, especially on “The Shrine/An Argument.” It’s in these surprising moments that Helplessness Blues really comes into its own, such as the sudden fiddle line on the jaunty “Bedouin Dress” and the squealing, Colin Stetson-styled saxophone at the end of “An Argument.” Elsewhere, the beautiful rush of “Grown Ocean” is just about the sunniest thing they’ve recorded, and the galloping rhythms on “Lorelai” and “Battery Kinzie” lend the record an invigorating kick just when it seems content to remain mellow. Most importantly, though, Pecknold’s knack for crafting distinct melodies even when the music gives off an airy, ethereal vibe is more than evident throughout, no matter if the songs are brief or sprawl out for minutes on end. He’s stretched out lyrically too. Though he retains many of the universal images of nature, love and loss from before, here he’s more ambitious, writing with greater focus on introspection and even a sense of the profound, particularly on the title track. If Helplessness Blues feels a tad less satisfying than its predecessor, it is perhaps because the songwriting never truly matches the absolute peaks of Fleet Foxes or the Sun Giant EP. Still, by heightening their ambitions and delivering a healthy dose of the expected and unexpected, Fleet Foxes have crafted yet another rich and nuanced record, confirming the maturity they displayed on their debut was no fluke.


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