Sunday, July 3, 2011

This week I have been mostly listening: to the Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues

First off, let’s get something out of the way. Helplessness Blues (the second full length album from the Fleet Foxes) is not in any way sexy or cool, very much in the same way that that grizzled old warhorse Neil Young isn't sexy or cool, but that doesn't mean it isn’t great.
Compared to their excellent debut, this album isn’t a huge departure. It bears the stamp of the Fleet Foxes signature sound in all its best moments, with the soaring close nit harmonies and rich, timeless, vocal melodies taking center stage over the rustic folk and country leanings of the songs. This time though, they seem to have added a subtlety to their approach which gives the impression the material was pored over and tweaked until it was deemed worthy by its creators for general consumption, it may not be as immediate as their previous work, but the little flourishes and nuances really grab your attention on repeated listens.
As for the lyrics, there is a definite theme of existential crises running through them. The meaning of life, love and death is pondered with some poetry as singer Robin Pecknold yearns to find his place and purpose in the world.
The centerpiece is the majestic 'Helplessness Blues', which is a distillation of all that’s great about this album. The first half of the song is Pecknold solo with an acoustic guitar for backing. He eloquently questions the nature of his own existence before the song changes tack and the full band comes in, transporting you on a cloud of heavenly harmonies to a paradise of panoramic beauty as you leave the trappings and drudgery of the modern world behind, 'If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore' he sings. Its a convincing argument to abandon your i-pad and get back to nature.

Other highlights include ‘Montezuma' and ‘Grown Ocean’, two vintage slabs of Fleet Foxes folk rock, and the stunning 'The Shrine/an Argument' which over several song segments, tells the story of a love lost before dissolving into a couple of minutes of abstract trumpet squeals. This could signal a welcome more experimental bent for the Foxes in future.
There is nothing ground breaking here, and some people may find the Fleet Foxes over earnest and lacking a sense of humour, but they have given us a thoughtful, homespun, life enriching album, which in a world where Justin Bieber is king, is surely something to be thankful for.
Spod Rating: Folking Great
Best time to listen: when possessed with a feeling of wistful melancholy
Worst time to listen: when performing a strip tease

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