Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Long awaited second album
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Back in 2008, Fleet Foxes’ gentle, hymnal country-folk started taking the world by storm. Although it happened fairly quickly, the Seattle band’s success was more of a cumulative phenomenon - slowly but steadily, reviews and sales of their eponymous debut album, which was released in June that year, gathered momentum. By the end of the year, it had sold more than 100,000 copies, making it the first ever record released by independent UK label Bella Union to achieve gold status. Just over two years on, that figure has doubled, Fleet Foxes have played festivals all around the world and - after a long wait - their second album, ‘Helplessness Blues’, is finally here.

While its title might suggest a marked change in direction, it’s not surprising to note that the six-piece haven’t reinvented themselves in the image of John Lee Hooker. In fact, on the whole, this album could be regarded as the second part of that first album - more a remake than a sequel, where little progression or advancement is made. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and those who were swayed by their debut album’s golden, pastoral harmonies, occasional medieval twinges and overt love of everything 1960s won’t be disappointed.

The dreamlike beginning of ‘Montezuma’, with its tender, subdued melody and singer Robin Pecknold’s delicate vocals, is a gentle reintroduction into the world of Fleet Foxes and their ethereal, endless summer vibes. ‘Sim Sala Bim’ and ‘The Plains / Bitter Dancer’ are similarly delightful delicacies, vividly coloured butterflies hovering above a field of hippies in the aftermath of the summer of love. Wistful and plaintive, solemn yet blissful, these are songs from another time - if not another planet - and their mesmerising melodies have the powerful ability to transport you, temporally and spatially, into the band’s anachronistic, peaceful, eternal summer.

That, on the whole, is the effect of the majority of the album - the title track, ‘Some You’d Admire’ and ‘Blue Spotted Tail’ are, similarly, pre-dusk ruminations on life, meditative lullabies that soothe and heal. It’s all incredibly pleasant, although at times too one-dimensional, the songs fading unnoticeably into the background, dissipating in those summer skies. That said, ‘Battery Kinzie’ and ‘The Shrine / An Argument’ - a two-part song that begins as pastoral whimsy, veers into dark, driven melancholy and then quietly explodes in a mangled, psychedelic freak out - lend the album a much-needed extra dynamic. And while ‘Helplessness Blues’ is a good record, a bit more of that would have made it a truly spectacular one.

7/10

Words by MISCHA PEARLMAN


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