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Helplessness Blues
Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues
Released 30 April 2011
Producer(s) Fleet Foxes, Phil Ek
Label Bella Union
Length 49:52
Genre Folk
Website fleetfoxes.com
85

The Fleet Foxes self-titled debut album was undoubtedly one of the most exciting and brilliant albums in recent years, bringing Beach Boys style vocal harmonies into the world of folk music in a way which truly overwhelmed the listener. The first-class song writing would have made it a wonderful album anyway, even without the sensational and soulful vocal performances that really set it apart from the rest. The follow up, Helplessness Blues, shows that their debut album was no fluke. Helplessness Blues is full of the lush vocal harmonies that characterised the debut album. It is a little slower and more sombre than the debut with fewer soaring choruses but there are still some great songs.

Opening track 'Montezuma' is a deeply affecting ode to loneliness. After only a few listens it already feels like a classic that you’ve known all your life and it matches anything on the debut album. Later in the album, 'Someone You’d Admire' is two minutes of pure perfection, a great lyric about grappling with the devils and angels on our shoulders set to a heartbreaking melody. Other highlights include the rousing acoustic strummer, 'Helplessness Blues', and the wonderfully melodic 'Lorelai', even if it does sound suspiciously similar to Bob Dylan’s '4th Time Around'. The album also features an eight minute epic entitled 'The Shrine/An Argument', which is divided into a number of distinct parts, with no discernable chorus and several tempo changes. This is something that they didn’t try on the first album.

Lyrically, this album is somewhat of a departure. With its red squirrels and quivering forests, the debut album was a celebration of nature. The lyrics on Helplessness Blues have the same poetic quality as those on the debut album but this time they are much more personal and self-reflective, painting a picture of someone very uncomfortable with their own worth as a human being. Lead singer and songwriter Robin Pecknold became so obsessively absorbed in the creation of this album that, by his own admission, it cost him his relationship. While I would hesitate to describe this as a break-up album, the break-up raised questions in Pecknold’s head as to how long he could continue to push away his loved ones for the sake of his work and these questions are vocalised in several of the album’s songs. In keeping with this theme, on the second track of the album, 'Bedouin Dress', Pecknold sings, "if to borrow is to take and not return then I have borrowed all my lonesome life." He may genuinely feel that way but he is giving back handsomely to his fans through his music. Long may it continue.

- Mark Collins