Fleet Foxes | Helplessness Blues (Subpop)

This struggle could come off as cliché in different hands, but the self-effacing, conversational tone of the lyrics and the varied musical ideas keep things fresh.

 

 

I’m guessing that Fleet Foxes’ sophomore effort, Helplessness Blues, will be part of the conversation about the best music released in 2011, just as their self-titled debut was in 2008. All of the impressive multi-part harmonies of the first album are there, but there is so much more. Their first album and their EP, Sun Giant, both had a backwoods-y vibe, with textures of folk, chorale, rock, and roots music. Helplessness Blues expands on these textures, with the band creating a sound that is recognizably their own. If the songs from this album were played out of context to someone who knows nothing of Fleet Foxes, they might find it tough to determine what era they came from.

Each song has a musical flavor that evokes a distinct setting. The album starts out in a darkened cathedral with singing monks (“Montezuma”), shifts to a canyon campfire populated with traveling musicians (“Beodin Dress”), travels to an English courtyard (“Sim Sala Bim”), and carries you to a stadium in the ‘70s for some classic folk rock harmonies (“Battery Kinzie”). Lead singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold visits your basement in the only reverb-less solo acoustic tune (“Blue Spotted Tail”). Musically they have gotten even more complex and varied with an instrumental track (“The Cascades”) and several songs containing separate musical sections (“The Plains / Bitter Dancer”). One track even has a horn freak out at the end (“The Shrine / An Argument”).

Those song titles don’t reflect it, but the lyrical content is pretty straightforward. While this is not billed as a concept album, each song explores the struggle to find contentment and happiness in the modern world. This struggle could come off as cliché in different hands, but the self-effacing, conversational tone of the lyrics and the varied musical ideas keep things fresh. The opening verse of the album’s title track, definitely the centerpiece of the album, illustrates it best:

 

“I was raised up believing, I was somehow unique

Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes

Unique in each way you can see.

Now after some thinking I’d say I’d rather be

A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me

But I don’t (I don’t) know what it will be

I’ll get back to you someday soon you’ll see.”

 

Do yourself a favor and check this one out. A | Tony Van Zeyl

 

 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply