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Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues Album Cover

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Reviewed by
8.8
Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues
Record Label: Sub Pop Records
Release Date: May 3, 2011
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
Fleet Foxes weren’t the first band to make folk music. (I think they were the 3rd? I got banned from Wikipedia.) But when their Sun Giant EP and self-titled debut soared into music fans’ lives back in 2008 on wings of mythical vocal harmonies and contemplations that can only be had in some far-off rustic setting, a new, but old era was born (or whatever!). And the worry, of course, with a band so entrenched in the quaintness and simplicity of Americana is, you know, what happens when they have to spend all of their time away from that safe haven? What happens when they are Most Wanted in metropolises like Chicago, NYC and Los Angeles? And of course, how is that going to change their sound – will it seem disingenuous for a band to write about rising suns when they can’t even see the damn thing over the skyscraper they walk beneath?

I can’t remember if all of those questions were Yes/No, but the answer to all of them is no. Helplessness Blues lacks nothing in the way of Fleet Foxes-induced tranquility. Yes, lead dude Robin Pecknold’s lyrics are a little more fame-based, but that’s to be expected. But no, this album doesn’t necessarily feel “bigger” or “grander,” if those somehow could be bad things. Much of the album’s lyrical themes deal with the classic case of, “You love me, but do I deserve it?” I mean, come on, Helplessness Blues? However, the brilliance of this album is how the band took such urban(e) scenes and reverted them back to the formula of emotionally strummed guitars and vocal harmonies that give you goosebumps like you’ve never felt. In the title track, Pecknold sings, “Someday I’ll be like the man on the screen,” and that’s really as overt as it gets. These guys are rock stars who can’t be rock stars. Talk about self-struggle.

For all of the baggage that comes included with Helplessness Blues, it is still a relaxing, folk-y Fleet Foxes record. Instrumental interlude “The Cascade” is a minstrel song from long ago, opener “Montezuma” is an instant trip back to what made us fall in love with this band in the first place and “The Plains / Bitter Dancer” has a weird-but-cool Simon and Garfunkel sort of playfulness to it (flute included!!). So if you’re worried about some sort of shake-up sonically, hush it right now. Heck, the vocal solo on “The Plains / Bitter Dancer” could be an album by itself. I’d just listen to them feed off one another’s velvety pipes, not even making words, for hours upon hours.

But I guess, back to the whole disingenuous thing – does it feel forced? Actually, not many albums this year have felt so organic. And I know that word came up a lot in 2008 when this band was getting big, but to stay organic after the ride they’ve been on is truly a difficult feat. Think about how jaded and sad you can become after just reading a music review. Now picture having to talk to those dicks day after day about the same stuff. But Pecknold found a way to deal with it in such a creative and cathartic way, while still keeping the music orchestral and somewhat carefree. On “Lorelai,” he misleadingly lilts, “So, guess I got old / I was like trash on the sidewalk / I guess I knew why often it’s hard to just sweet talk / I was old news to you then.” I understand his fear - being a popular indie band is like being a popsicle on a summer day. But if they retreat inside often enough to record and get away from Williamsburg and Spin cover features, they won’t be going anywhere. And let’s hope not, because this city is killing me. Helplessness Blues is one of the few things reminding me that beyond the liquor stores and condominiums is a little freedom and a lot of hope.


Recommended If You Like: Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Young, Band of Horses, you should know by now


My name washes offwww.myspace.com/fleetfoxes
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 34
09:50 AM on 05/11/11
#2
bandnamexmyname
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Great review as usual, fantastic album.
09:53 AM on 05/11/11
#3
inthemidst
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You really should know by now.
10:09 AM on 05/11/11
#4
youngmountain
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This record is absolutely superb, I really don't think I could've hoped for much more from them.
10:33 AM on 05/11/11
#5
Holly HoX!
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Robin actually moved INTO the city - Portland. I feel like the lyrics on this album are much more direct and autobiographical than the debut and that's what I love about it. These guys and especially Robin are the humblest of dudes. Fun fact: their current bassist played in The Blood Brothers.
10:35 AM on 05/11/11
#6
XenoAbe
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I don't even typically like this type of music, but this album has been drawing me back consistently.
10:51 AM on 05/11/11
#7
Chemical Love
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I picked this up the other day for $7.99 without ever hearing a song from them. Thats the first time in some years I've done something like that.
10:55 AM on 05/11/11
#8
Jeremy Aaron
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From all the reviews I've read, I feel like I'm the only person that feels this way, but even though the harmonies and musicianship are still as technically proficient as their self-titled, I just don't like these songs as much. For me, this album didn't have a "White Winter Hymnal" or "Blue Ridge Mountains" that stuck with me long after it was over. It's well-crafted for sure, but sadly forgettable, at least for me.
10:56 AM on 05/11/11
#9
dashboardkid88
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Album is so good.
11:09 AM on 05/11/11
Blake Solomon
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From all the reviews I've read, I feel like I'm the only person that feels this way, but even though the harmonies and musicianship are still as technically proficient as their self-titled, I just don't like these songs as much. For me, this album didn't have a "White Winter Hymnal" or "Blue Ridge Mountains" that stuck with me long after it was over. It's well-crafted for sure, but sadly forgettable, at least for me.
i had a very personal reaction to their Self-Titled album. It signified a lot of what I thought I wanted in this world (freedom, a place to sprawl out, the thought that just because we live in a city doens't mean we have to live in one). But now, as I moved from a medium sized city to a large one, I too have been able to grasp onto this album. The fight between where we are and where we so desperately want to be, coupled with the fact that maybe where we want to be is now an impossible dream. And I think how they are juxtaposing that sort of very real, very harsh realities of being a band in the year 2011, with some extremely out-of-time songs ("Grown Ocean" and "Helplessness Blues" and "Montezuma" come to mind), is just a testament to how well this band knows themselves and what they want to be. And I guess, being reminded that all you can really take care of is yourself has been a nice way for me to latch onto this record, even if there is no "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" or "Ragged Wood."
11:20 AM on 05/11/11
Mens
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such a good record. seriously
11:34 AM on 05/11/11
Co and Ca
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well, here's another chance for me to gush about this album haha. for real though, i can't say enough good things about this band/album. easily my AOTY right now.
11:40 AM on 05/11/11
Blake Solomon
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well, here's another chance for me to gush about this album haha. for real though, i can't say enough good things about this band/album. easily my AOTY right now.
this is probably 2 or 3 spots back for me. I don't think anything will overcome ManOrch. but yeah, i remember being so nervous before playing this the first time. And by, like, halfway through "Montezuma" I knew it was going to be a fantastic record.
12:04 PM on 05/11/11
djemilah
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I was really worried about this album, having seen some pretty negative reviews (mostly, it has to be said, on the lyrics) but finally got round to downloading the two singles and they blew me away, just like Blue Ridge Mountains from Fleet Foxes. Will be buying later this week
12:07 PM on 05/11/11
AC91
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I picked this up the other day for $7.99 without ever hearing a song from them. Thats the first time in some years I've done something like that.
How did you enjoy it after the random buy?

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