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Music  |  Reviews

Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues

May 2, 2011  |  9:45am
Fleet Foxes: <em>Helplessness Blues</em>

Sweet and sly, Fleet Foxes make stellar second album

After their eponymous debut album earned a well-deserved standing ovation from critics, Fleet Foxes set the bar high for their sophomore album. The alt-folk band was up to the challenge. Helplessness Blues is an album that is sweet and comforting at its worst and inspiring at its best.

While some bands can’t keep an entire album within a similar tempo range without producing a muddled, bland collection of songs, Fleet Foxes excels in meaningful simplicity. The foundations of many tracks are similar — the band frequently returns to the strumming, “ohhs” and “ahhs” that define opener “Montezuma” — but Fleet Foxes know how to layer sounds to add depth and make each song distinctive.

For every moment of stripped-down simplicity found on ”Blue Spotted Tail,” there is a dirge that bursts into a cacophony of brass on “The Shrine / The Argument,” the sunny chords of “Lorelai,” the faint mystical feel of instrumental “The Cascades” and the regal undertones of “Battery Kinzie.”

The album is often about love — mostly, as the title of Helplessness Blues might indicate, about the emptiness that often accompany the euphoria of the emotion. “All the loose ends would surround me again in the shape of your face / What makes me love you despite the reservations?” frontman Robin Pecknold asks on “Sim Sala Bim.”

He turns self-reflective on the title track: “After some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery, serving something beyond me / But I don’t know, I don’t know what that will be.” For now, Pecknold and his bandmates are important cogs in the indie-music scene — with a few more albums akin to Helplessness Blues under their belts, they may soon fit just as nicely into the canon of American folk music.

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