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.