Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
April 1, 2011
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Helplessness Blues starts where Fleet Foxes left off, which is a very good thing. Peaceful and consistently harmonized vocals over soft guitars and pastoral melodies. The most interesting observation ever made about the Fleet Foxes’ debut was that their beautiful folk inspired sound was so vastly contrasted with their dark, even sometimes macabre lyrics. “And, Michael, you would fall/And turn the white snow/Red as strawberries in the summertime.” These lyrics are matched with the most subtle and soulful guitar and vocal performance which is what many acknowledge to be the Fleet Foxes defining feature. All this is to say, the Seattle band have produced a great record that will not disappoint their fans.
The title track is a highlight, the harsh lyrics again struggling against soothing sounds “I grew believing I was somehow unique…now after some thinkin’ I’d say I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machine, servin’ something beyond me.” The track grows into a cacophony of sounds, contrasting these nihilistic observations of life, allowing the listener to truly feel the Helplessness Blues. Subpop, being one of the wisest and most experienced labels in the US, sensibly gave the band the freedom to record the album they wanted to, and this was to the benefit of everyone involved. Tracks such as The Cascades show stripped back acoustic guitar battles, while some rely heavily on the sixties pop inspiration that the band was founded on to create long harmonic pop jams.
The Shrine / An Argument is a particularly special track which is split into three movements, ending with a strange, discordant brass/string jam reminiscent of Radiohead circa Kid A overlaid with a simply violin melody that while very strange, sets it apart from the rest of the album. Mention must be made to Robin Pecknold’s unique, powerful vocals. They transcend the album itself adding a completely different level to all the tracks.
Ever since Fleet Foxes very amusingly took to twitter I have been highly anticipating this album and I was not disappointed. Helplessness Blues gave me look at a more developed and sophisticated view of the faux-peasants from the Pacific North East. I highly encourage you too, to take a look.