Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

“The Shrine/An Argument” Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues. Sub Pop, May 3, 2011.
I drove up from California to Oregon with an iPod full of music I had never heard before, so I’m processing way more music than I can reasonably write about, but I wanted to say something about the new Fleet Foxes record, Helplessness Blues.
I was not a huge fan of their first album. I thought it was twee, boring, and exactly the wrong kind of retro. Even though their vocal harmonies were a selling point to their fans, I thought they were a crutch to distract from generic, uninspired songwriting.
Helplessness Blues is a big step up, in my opinion. I’m starting to get a sense for a real voice emerging from the pastiche of influences. There’s still plenty of harmony, gauzy production and prog rock-like lyrical nonsense (I went down among the dust and pollen/to the old stone fountain in the morning after dawn/underneath were all these pennies fallen from the hands of children/they were there and then they were gone), but there’s also an effort to assimilate more and varied sounds.
Some songs: “Montezuma” is a well-crafted and catchy opener. “Bedouin Dress” has a violin hook that I really like. The two song stretch of “The Shrine/An Argument” to “Blue Spotted Tail” is absolutely fantastic. “The Shrine” has a searing and devastating vocal performance by Robin Pecknold that transforms into a refrain with a driving groove, making it one of the few Fleet Foxes that rocks in a traditional sense. “An Argument” contains an instrumental tag that is the single most musically interesting thing that I’ve heard from them. Not coincidentally, this is the point in the song where the blurry reverb effects drop out and the music gets to speak for itself. “Blue Spotted Tail” is simply beautiful; it sounds like it’s a Pecknold solo.

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