Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (album review)

Helplessness Blues

By David Colburn

Staff Writer

Sunrise. A slightly chilled mid-spring morning brimming with beauty and radiance. A landscape of green; green grass, green leaves, all green everything. Valleys, mountains, forests, groves, ravines, streams, and inclines. Nature.
Who is not moved by the thought of a naturalistic paradise? There is a distant desire to disconnect from the technological clutter every so often and retreat back to roots. Be honest, does anything sound better than wandering through the denseness of the woods and enjoying a blackberry straight from the stem? The acoustic strum and pastoral production of folk music has always given its best effort to capture that sensation.

Fleet Foxes’ eponymous debut was one of the most critically-acclaimed albums of 2008; needless to say, expectations were high. The band does not disappoint, or even consider the possibility of disappointing, from the intimate anthems to the monumental peaks of sound and every note in between. Helplessness Blues is another well-crafted, well-formed album that starts as “enjoyable” and never sheds its charm.

That quaint, folksy charm draws the listener, but it never fully reveals itself. From the sun-drenched harmonies of “Montezuma” to the sparkling wind-chimes of “Grown Ocean,” the experience moves steadily. The album is a pleasant ride.

There is no concern over lyrical melodrama or thematic falters; one is engaged in the passion of the performance, and the minute details fragment and fade into haze. Atmosphere overtakes the speakers, that picturesque ode to the springtime sunrise is present even in the album’s darkest moments.

One can pinpoint a vast barrage of folk influences. The band has cited Roy Harper’s Stormcock and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, but sonic similarities expand outward from there. The listener can hear a bit of Gordon Lightfoot in the opening of “Sim Sala Bam,” a certain comparison to Gentle Giant’s Experience in the midst of “Bedouin Dress,” vague recollections of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in a various vocal harmonies, and acoustic strings that stir up memories of early Genesis. In fact, “The Shrine/An Argument” plays like a condensed arrangement of the latter’s infamous “Supper’s Ready” opus, in all of its majesty and oddity.

This review could continue on for ages, but there is a single simple message to take to heart; Helplessness Blues is an album worth the listen and an album worth cherishing. Every aspect works and some aspects ascend beyond the prodigious heights of the sound itself. Listen to the album while exploring the depths of nature, let the album transport the mind to the depths of nature from the comfort of a living room. The warmth and glory of a mid-spring morning may be a temporary delight, but Helplessness Blues does not have to end.