When I first heard Fleet Foxes a couple of years ago, a unique sound permeated my ears. “He Doesn’t Know Why” from their eponymous first album was the culprit, and needless to say, I was hooked. Part indie folk rock, part baroque harmonic pop jam [sic], Fleet Foxes made a sound that, to me, was oddly unique and familiar at the same time. Eventually listening to the entire album further revealed the talent here, with a wonderful collection of songs that seemed living and breathing, distinctly organic pieces, that moved between upbeat, lung filling folk anthems all the way to haunting, downtrodden songs, and sometimes performing this within the confines of a single song. Close harmonies and a collection of stringed instruments dominate the sound that’s heavily steeped in Americana and nature. When driving through the mountains of North Carolina recently, I had to put the song “Blue Ridge Mountains” on when I saw that I was in fact in said mountains.
Tuesday marks the release of Fleet Foxes sophomore Sub Pop released album, Helplessness Blues. So how does it stack up? Very well. Helplessness Blues takes more of an evolutionary than revolutionary approach here, beginning with “Montezuma”, a great opening track that instantly reminds you how great frontman Robin Pecknold’s voice is, not to mention utilizing the harmonies they’ve become known for. Instantly, this release feels more “magical” or “worldly” or something hard to explain. “Sim Sala Bim,” one of the first standout tracks of the album, brings this into the spotlight, talking about magical incantations and spells. The giant anthem that is the title track is another high point here, with more of the huge vocals that we came to love in their first album. Finally, one of the best tracks of the whole thing is the epic “The Shrine / An Argument,” an eight-minute ebbing and flowing emotional adventure full of some of the best imagery in an album chock full of it.
Overall, I feel like this album is an excellent followup to their first effort, bringing many of the same elements that made that release so successful. All of the tracks here are wonderful, including the ones I didn’t mention, and work well together, proving the organic and well put together feel of the first album wasn’t a fluke, and that Fleet Foxes certainly know what they’re doing in creating an experience of an album, instead of just putting songs together. Helplessness Blues proves they’re strong as ever, and is really worth listening to, through and through, over and over again.
Purchase Helplessness Blues at your local record store or if you must, on iTunes.