Photograph by Sean Pecknold

After an outstanding EP, a near-perfect debut album, and ventures into solo territory, Seattle folk troubadours Fleet Foxes have returned with yet another laudable contribution to folk music. The sextet’s sophomore release Helplessness Blues is a beautifully made parade of songs that have successfully avoided the sophomore slump with an album that has its roots in folk and baroque pop.

After their debut album, the boys in Fleet Foxes kept themselves busy. Drummer J. Tillman released a substantial amount of solo albums, while frontman Robin Pecknold focused on solo efforts with White Antelope and Rainbow Fang, a project with his manger/sister Aja. It has been almost three years since the group released new material, but it was well worth the wait. Helplessness Blues – although similar in sound to their previous release – is another perfectly executed effort. With the addition of multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson, the multi-faceted Helplessness Blues has moments of serenity, which are paired nicely with the excitement of their louder songs.

Opening the album is ‘Montezuma’, which is a beautiful song, but the presence of pessimism and oppression is evident as Pecknold sings, “Oh man what I used to be, Montezuma to Tripoli.” Montezuma was the Aztec Emperor captured by the Spanish Conquistadors and Tripoli, Libya is a city that has throughout history been subjected to foreign invading customs forced upon their existing culture.

The title track ‘Helplessness Blues’ starts soft and quiet as Pecknold’s truly introspective and heartfelt lyrics lead the Foxes into a mandolin-heavy love song, that shifts again into a well-orchestrated resolution that includes a delectable sound omitting from Skylar Skjelset’s guitar.

At an epic eight minutes, ‘The Shrine / An Argument’ is a musical journey with four distinct chapters that again flaunts the control and range of Pecknold’s voice as he ventures beyond the vocal range heard on their self-titled debut when he belts out “Sunlight over me no matter what I do” with impressive control while the cascading picking of an acoustic guitar is heard in the background. With a constant change in style and a brass epilogue, ‘The Shrine / An Argument’ exemplifies Fleet Foxes venture into unknown territory. Finishing the album is ‘Grown Ocean’, where fluttering flutes are yet another example of Fleet Foxes progressive demeanour in instrumentation.

Although few might criticize Fleet Foxes for not diving deep into a new direction, this can also be seen in a positive light. Rather than risking a flop, Fleet Foxes have stuck to what they know best, and have refined their craft of folk music. However, the forward process of Fleet Foxes music is evident in both the diverse range of instrumentation and Pecknold’s introspective lyrics that dive heavily into the concepts of existentialism. The fluidity of the songs is matched by the cohesiveness of the entire album. Not only are all the songs well crafted, but also it seems as if they are more personal. Helplessness Blues is arranged in perfect order, and the album furthers Fleet Foxes’ position as the leaders of the folk-rock revival scene.

Fleet Foxes – Montezuma
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Fleet Foxes – The Shrine / An Argument

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— , April 12, 2011    No Comments
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