Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes

Helplessness Blues

Fleet Foxes

2011

Sub Pop

Fleet Foxes’ first, self-titled album, released in 2008, displayed high-quality songs fueled by amazing harmonies, well-written arrangements, and lyrics that pulled the listener in to the art.  With an essence of warmth radiating from Fleet Foxes, the band found themselves in the midst of success, with a critically acclaimed album.  It’s an album that wore its influences on its sleeve, somewhere between indie-folk and sunny california pop.  However, their latest record, Helplessness Blues, pulls at the seams of that sleeve and shows a tear forming (Yay extended metaphors!) at that same warmth.

The theme of depression and insecurity abounds on Helplessness Blues.  Leader Robin Pecknold, found in the throes of eminence from their last record, seems to have experienced these emotions during the creation of, and possibly because of, the new album.  Setbacks because of touring, scrapped recording sessions, and the painstaking care Pecknold put forth into this project resulted in inner turmoil it seems.  And this inner turmoil comes out fully on the record.

The album starts with the beautiful “Montezuma,” opening with the lines “So now I am older than my mother and father when they had their daughter, now what does that say about me?”  Already the listener should be aware that this isn’t the same folk-band that left us with “White Winter Hymnal.”  At no time is the idea of insecurity more apparent than on the title track where Pecknold chants over and over, “If I had an orchard, I’d work ’til I’m sore.”  Wishing he was “a functioning cog in some great machinery” is not the optimistic lyric one would expect from Fleet Foxes, but there it is, pushing Pecknold, and by default the entire band, with the artistry of their music.

Less time is spent focusing on the sound-scaping harmonies that crafted Fleet Foxes’ first album.  Instead, the background voices are used more subtly, such as on “Bedouin Dress.”  Here the voices are used more as instruments, with Pecknold taking the lead.  The beautiful harmonies are still apparent, just to a lesser degree.  However, one style left over from Fleet Foxes is the building of arrangements.  Take “Sim Sala Bim” for example.  It starts as, maybe, the quietest song on the album then grows sonically until the music breaks into a whole other quicker part.  This nonlinear form of expression only enhances the bitter mood of the album, culling the insecure temperament into an incredible experience.

Upon first hearing that the new album would be titled “Helplessness Blues,” I was taken aback by what I deemed to be an uncreative pseudonym.  But that is simply not the case.  The album is nothing, if not creative.  It takes its creativity so seriously, that nothing but “Helplessness Blues” would be apt for this collection of dark, but inspiring songs.  Fleet Foxes have outdone themselves.

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