Helplessness Blues review by Fleet Foxes

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  • Released: May 3, 2011
  • Sound: 9
  • Lyrics: 9
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 9 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.7 (36 votes)
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues
3

Sound — 9
Inviting, theatrical and momentous; since 2008, Seattle-based folk army Fleet Foxes have wrapped the ears of listeners and thrown it into a cave of abstract, earthy soundwaves that delight, no matter which genre you call home. Their self-titled release made an imprint on Sub Pop and critics alike who were too engulfed in it's wonder to pen thoughts and impressions that tipped the group to a lower level. Much is the same with "Helplessness Blues"; the figurative baroque pop jams seem like a vast amount of sound to stomach all at once yet they're tested by vocal harmonies, waves of intimate fingerpicking and novel-like testimonies that grasp you from start to finish. Take "The Plains/The Bitter Dancer" for example; it's complex stroll through melodies for almost six minutes is enough to provoke you to being an unforgiving critic, but you become hesistant, eager to see what takes place next. Being engulfed by the distinct folk qualities strikes unawaringly. "Helplessness Blues" rings with barefoot honesty, roaring with Robin Pecknold's voice, while others, like the timid outburst "Lorelai" and the decadent "Someone You'd Admire" howl with a darker sense of desperation. That desperation is what spikes infatuation; Fleet Foxes was easily recognizable, the ups and downs were predictable and kept true to the band's literal way of telling tales through strings and percussion, but the second studio attempt strays from that. "Sim Sala Bim" gleams with a normal approach but then an entrancing conclusion strangles your attention with guitar work easily comparable to more folk-orientated cuts that propelled a foursome named Led Zeppelin and inspired hundreds to introduce and feed off psychedelia.

Lyrics — 9
For some, writing and producing an album can be exhausting; not in a way where it tires you out physically, but mentally drains your emotions and almost, at times, harms and affects those around you. The creation of Radiohead's "In Rainbows" is one example, but most recently, "Helplessness Blues" is a prop that can be used as Exhibit A. Having worked on material in 2009 and gearing for a release a year later, Pecknold toiled with his work, putting in an immense amount of care that would put stress on his personal relationships, thus leaving him alone when it became too much. The completion of "Helplessness Blues" changed the mind of Pecknold's girlfriend and one reason for the reunion could be how much time the musician spent on presenting his vocals. Having found trouble in knowing what to write, the lyricist opens up to a naked extent, with Fleet Foxes clearly supporting him. "Sunlight over me no matter what I do", he shouts on "The Shrine/An Argument", an eight-minute breakup piece that leads into "Blue Spotted Tail", a sincere moment of reflection that doesn't overpower the listener, but makes them focused, stringed along to every word Pecknold mutters. Even when the vocalist is powering songs himself, with his modern take on being poetic, he doesn't overshadow his fellow multi-instrumentalists and instead, compliments them, making his words sound even more empowering.

Overall Impression — 9
It can be easy to question Fleet Foxes authenticity, claiming they're an average group who utilize high-end production to create stunning arrangements. Such could be the case for their debut, but not its successor. "Helplessness Blues" is more of an intricate collection of ideas blended together to evaluate the group's range and tell a journey from different point of views (personal and practical). It does this without losing its trademark empathy and opens us up to Pecknold and his struggle to find himself in his own story called life. Examining his highs and lows, his heartbreak and his self-examination in whole almost seems like tredding upon protected territory but it molds a relationship between the listener and the musician, something music rarely accomplishes with a diverse audience.

22 comments sorted by best / new / date

    thenirve
    This album is NEARLY the equivalent as far as competence goes...It was a complete suprise. A great album, especially after such a monumental debut. I think the Fleet Foxes are going to be a great band for our future.
    crazy8rgood
    EpiExplorer wrote: Is there any actual blues?
    No, it's folk. Anways, 10 out of ****ing 10. This album is absolutely amazing.
    sammatius
    I don't think the term baroque is used referring to the musical era, i think it 's more about putting many things, or acting complex and having a certain attitude, sometimes where it's not necessary; in some way it's a bit of a show off but in fleet foxes case, it's well done. A comparison(if you have to do it) would work better with baroque architecture and art.
    Freohr7
    Being engulfed by the distinct folk qualities strikes unawaringly.
    Chill, Shakespeare. I agree through, great album. I actually love this one much more than the debut. Seems like they didn't try so hard to make individual singles, and just made great big, multi-part jams this time around.
    afortuneinlies
    it doesn't need a new genre. not every band needs a different genre. Fleet Foxes sound like a revisiting of 60's folk like simon and garfunkel with modern twists. I'd call it something like "Folk."
    Savage Animal
    this review is pretty awful though.. I don't even know why you would feel the need to question their authenticity. I mean, the songwriting has been strong since their first EP, and that's what keeps me coming back to listen, not their image
    Savage Animal
    Yea this album ****ing rules! I've been listening to the leak for close to a month now and the songs just continue to grow on me. I can't even pick standout tracks because they are all so damn good. Just definitely give it a listen if you haven't yet, because they are one of the best bands around right now
    bokma
    I feel like I have been waiting for this album for a lifetime. I heard a few songs but I still have to check out the whole album. Their self-titled album blew me away and hope this album does the same!
    Bananafish003
    PerpetualBurn wrote: Baroque Pop is in no way reminiscent of the Baroque era, whatsoever.
    I've tried to explain this to people for so long! A better term is probably chamber pop. Baroque pop would be more focused on intersecting melodic lines, like certain Vampire Weekend songs...it's not just about the instrumentation.
    bokma
    BenRaah wrote: wutconnur wrote: Love how metalheads think they're musical genius' with their dull 'shredding' but realistically, they don't know much about music. You clearly don't know much about metal.
    ^What BenRaah said. Also, if you don't like metal, don't listen to it and don't complain about it here.
    TimTheWizard
    I always thought they named it Baroque pop because of the way that he sings, but yeah guess I'm wrong :/ they're more just folk, but I don't care that much bout genres anyway. This album is great! The first one didn't give me any shivers as there were weak songs and (very) strong ones like Tiger Mountain Peasant Song and White Winter Hymnal Song and Blue Ridge Mountains. This song is just one cohesive story, like a tale. This album is def gonna have some influences.
    Greenfinger182
    PerpetualBurn wrote: Baroque Pop is in no way reminiscent of the Baroque era, whatsoever.
    This. I noticed Sufjan Stevens is listed under the same genre on here. I've listened to both him and this band, and not to get too uppity here, but in music school I've been required to take full semesters of study on Baroque music...I really don't see the similarity between any of these guys and Vivaldi, JS Bach, or Handel. I was expecting a lot more straight-eighth note patterns with tons of modulations into and out of relative keys, but got none of that. Maybe it's just me, but I get the feeling "Baroque Pop" came about primarily as a hipseter term...I mean, most people haven't listened too extensively to the Baroque period, so not too many people are going to call them out on it, and on top of that just using "Baroque" within the name likely makes you sound smarter and more cultured than you truly are, which is kind of the point of the hipster universe to being with. But maybe I'm just missing the fundamental similarity. I doubt you can attribute it to instruments..."Baroque", "Classical", "Romantic"...these all apply to the way music was composed during the time period, not to the instruments used during that time. If I play Jimi Hendrix on a lute, I'm not Renaissance Rock.
    7win5uns
    Baroque pop is your standard guitar, bass, and drum setup, but also can include other stringed and woodwind instruments. It's reminiscent of the Baroque Period of music.
    Eurotrasher
    ThrashRaptor wrote: WHAT is "baroque pop"?
    Have you not listened to the Fleet Foxes yet? Listen and you'll see... And okay I'll admit I can't think of any other bands to put in the genre, but it's certainly a fitting name. Anyways, very good review! Very excited to check out the new album, the self-titled certainly was something special
    wutconnur
    Love how metalheads think they're musical genius' with their dull 'shredding' but realistically, they don't know much about music.
    BenRaah
    wutconnur wrote: Love how metalheads think they're musical genius' with their dull 'shredding' but realistically, they don't know much about music.
    You clearly don't know much about metal.