Review: Helplessness Blues (Fleet Foxes)

“What good is it to sing ‘Helplessness Blues,’ why should I wait for anyone else?”

The year 2008 left many music publications, blogs, and etc. in awe of a little Seattle-based band called Fleet Foxes. From beloved Sub Pop Records, this Fleet Foxes band boasted high-caliber harmonies and unforgettable melodies in ways that indie-folk bands hadn’t yet dreamed of in such a year as 2008. Not only was the self-titled Fleet Foxes debut album a huge hit amongst critics, but it also made a lasting name for the band in the indie scene.

Three years later, Fleet Foxes returns to knock all of our socks off all over again.

Helplessness Blues is not just a ridiculously beautiful album— Though, it is certainly that. The band’s sophomore release is also a brilliant progression that takes the sextet into the land of even bolder harmonies and more concentrated melodies. Mid-album highlight “The Plains / Bitter Dancer” emphasizes both of these assets, beginning with a gorgeous train emulation (using mainly vocals and subtle percussion) and then following with a brilliant story set to a brilliant melody. The song even takes one more step at the very end, bursting into a radiant, rushing harmonic gush.

Any uncertainty, any question pertaining to the mythical “sophomore slump” is totally obliterated by the end of “Sim Sala Bim,” or “Battery Kinzie” at the latest. Helplessness Blues is one of very few albums in existence that actually gets better as you get farther into it. (Not that the first part of the album is lacking in any way, as the meticulous arrangement and Paul Simon-esque melody of “Bedouin Dress” and the masterful simplicity of “Montezuma” are some of many early-album strong points.)

In fact, the album’s climax takes place two tracks from its end. “The Shrine / An Argument” is an eight-minute masterpiece built from a handful of genius melodic gems, carved out with striking, illustrative passages, and painted alongside achingly eerie undertones— Resulting in the Foxes’ most ambitious and memorable composition yet. Harmonies still steal the show here, of course, harkening back to SMiLE-era Beach Boys, making the eldritch escapade even more colourful and wonderful.

It’s nearly pointless for me to continue explaining the magnificence of this release. Writing about how satiable and mellifluous the “Lorelai” harmonies are, and how profoundly effortless the longing lyrics and timeless melody of “Blue Spotted Tail” is…

Everything boils down to this. Helplessness Blues is 2011’s greatest album (so far), and owning it on vinyl is a MUST. The Foxes recorded this album specifically on analogue in order to bring out a warmth and classicality that digital recording just can’t handle.

Thank you, Robin Pecknold and Fleet Foxes for this wonder of a record. Thank you.

91% / A-  ☆

(Purchase: Sub Pop [CD or LP] / Amazon [CD, MP3 or LP] / iTunes)