Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (Bella Union)

fleet foxes helplessness blues


Seattle-based folk collective Fleet Foxes made big waves with their self-titled 2008 effort, finding themselves lauded by critics and fans alike for their harmony-drenched, melodic songs, dominated by frontman Robin Pecknold’s powerful vocals. After touring that debut hard, the band recorded a full album’s worth of material, only to scrap much of it and re-record some songs completely. Making this album has clearly been a massive labour for the band, and particularly Pecknold, who carries this album heavily in his surprisingly dark lyrics.


On first listen, all the band’s trademark sonic cornerstones are firmly in place – the earnest guitar, delicate arrangements and massed harmonies all feature prominently. What is obvious, however, is that the band are much more adept at deploying these features more sparingly, and to greater effect. The harmonies, instead of being the focal point of many songs on their debut, are here used more as a foundation on which Pecknold’s melodies are hung. ‘Battery Kinzie’ is a fine example – its verses rely on massed voices to augment the tune, and when they join Pecknold on the chorus refrain it is all the more powerful.


This is a more mature, more expansive record than their previous work, with two songs in particular that are practically suites of separate parts. The first of these, ‘The Plains/Bitter Dancer’ opens with wordless, moaning voices setting up a mournful atmosphere. The song winds its way gradually and rewardingly through to a joyful closing section, those massed harmonies sounding the polar opposite of their downbeat opening.


The other “two-parter” on the record, “The Shrine/An Argument” grows from Pecknold, with just a guitar, questioning his qualities as a member of a successful band – “Sunlight over me no matter what I do”. The song gradually slows, paring down to a piano led coda which is suddenly interrupted by a squall of atonal brass. It is a surprising, almost shocking conclusion to the tune, a million miles from where it started and a million miles from anything the band have done before.


There a couple of songs here that are just Pecknold and his guitar, easily as brilliant and well-focused as any other singer-songwriter out there. ‘Blue Spotted Tail’ finds him questioning the universe and his place in it, and it has a beautiful innocence to his questioning. But when the band support him, as on the stunning ‘Lorelai’, you see why this isn’t a Robin Pecknold solo record. The song flows so easily it’s laughable, the vocal hooks falling into place one after the other. Of course, this isn’t groundbreaking, modern music, and the influences shine through – Bob Dylan, Roy Harper, Brian Wilson. But the real achievement of this album is that it is still unmistakably Fleet Foxes. It’s just they’re moving into deeper, more interesting waters.


Release Date – 03/05/2011



God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.