Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues

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Posted September 1, 2011 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0
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Baroque pop/folk from Seattle band climbs to glorious pinnacle using simplistic sounds, transparent lyrics on sophomore album

In the first couple of seconds of hearing Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues, your ears would tell you that you’re listening to Mumford & Sons with a flogging towards a psychedelic Beatles epiphany. Fleet Foxes took on the task of fusing Americana with Simon & Garfunkle folk pop on their debut LP, but this time around – on Helplessness Blues Robin Pecknold opens up his soul and the lower cavity of his heart to create captivating poetry about self-discovery and life’s unanswered questions while trying to create some kind of transcendence to hope. That’s because Pecknold decides to be Jacob on the altar, laying his ego aside to place his feelings on the front line. But even with its interesting autobiographical architecture, Helplessness Blues is blessed with supple angelic boys’choir harmonies and glorified melodies. The music, sweltering in Dylanesque, reaches a refinement of sweet romanticism on the surface while building its emotions on the backs of heartbreak and frustration.

The eight-minute epic “The Shrine/An Argument” walks through the last stages of a failing relationship, pushing through walls of contemplation, anger and closure.  With every emotional shift, the music makes a similar transition. Songs like the title cut (“Helplessness Blues”) puts Pecknold in a dungeon of darkness, questioning his own destiny: “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique/Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes unique in each way you can see/And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be/A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.”  These are all definitely sad feelings, adamantly carving out the poems about hopelessness, but these feelings feel real. Like soul searching in a very Dylanesque kind of way. But Dylan unmasked a great deal of proverbial chatter after babbling through verses loaded with mysteries. Pecknold chooses to gaze to the sky and camps out in his isolation.

Despite the weariness of the topics and the overcast of gloom, there is some upbeat melodic folk in the mix, particularly songs like “Battery Kinzie” and “Lorelai.” And then there’s “Blue Spotted Tail,” which glides like a heartfelt lullaby as Pecknold perfectly coos alongside a warm acoustic guitar.

Pecknold does a remarkable job in not making his gloom look like doom. This is totally not a Dido record. Instead, Pecknold turns his helplessness into euphoric art. At the core, Helplessness Blues is a gorgeous record that feels effortless and almost timeless.

J MATTHEW COBB

HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 03 May 2011
  • Label: Sub Pop, Bella Union
  • Producers: Phil Ek, Fleet Foxes
  • Spin This: “Montezuma,” “Helplessness Blues,” “Lorelai”

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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