Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues

Photo by Autumn DeWilde

cover.jpgThe questionable future of the album is a modern debate. Despite my short attention span, as well as my tendencies to lean towards file sharing on the internet - I will never side with the death of the album. It is the artistry of the album that has helped me to separate the wheat from the chaff in the disparity between my lifetime favorite artists and the latest buzz band that has caught my ear.

My initial introduction to Fleet Foxes came at a time when a new thirst for alt-folk americana was insatiable. Groups like the Avett Brothers, Fruit Bats, Band of Horses, and Blitzen Trapper were ramping up my playlists and whetting an appetite. I am still baffled by the genre and how to properly categorize these bands, one thing is common amongst all of them though and it is the regional influences that make their way into the music. Listen for the rain soaked moments, drizzling and pouring throughout these Seattle folks's sound, and don't miss the moments when the sun breaks through the clouds.

Helplessness Blues, the new release by acclaimed alt-folkies Fleet Foxes, is a subtle and rock solid collection of beautiful songs. Not wrought with multiple climatic pop moments as is the first album, Helplessness Blues robustly delivers on the expected harmonies - crafted from inspiration of eras past. The collection of songs plays out like a journey, a life's reminiscence, its hopes, words with the kind of wisdom that only comes with age and experience, which is notable upon first listen to the title track.

Fleet Foxes emerged swiftly as one of the best albums of 2008, their self titled debut LP. Accolades touted it as a unique nod to traditional folk music antecedents, a sound rich in inspiration from Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Brian Wilson.

This time, the group's collective voice functions as an instrument providing wafting melodies that back lead singer Robin Pecknold's sweet, sweet delivery. Another fantastic aspect of this new collection of songs is its focus on the guitar. The finger-picking on many of the songs is stunning and is what sets this album apart from its predecessor. These layers create an ambiance that weaves you into an emotional appreciation that only grains tighter and tighter with each listen.

Some standout moments for me include the sequence of tracks 9 through 11.  "Someone You'd Admire" particularly grabs with its cavernous and sweet howling melody, as the harmony builds to resolution and leads quietly into the frenetic finger-picking intro of "The Shrine / An Argument," an epic 8-minute track. The song snaps to attention again with the raw quality of Pecknold's voice, and only after you are exhausted from the blaring resistance of the saxophone does it fade into the sweet strings that prep you for the saccharine existential crisis of "Blue Spotted Tail".

The anticipation for this new album doesn't disappoint in the least here in our camp! I applaud Fleet Foxes for a strong sophomore release.

-- By KCRW's Social Media Host, Betsy Moyer

Helplessness Blues will be available to stream on demand from April 25 through May 24, 2011. The album will be released on May 3.

1. Montezuma
2. Bedouin Dress
3. Sim Sala Bim
4. Battery Kinzie
5. The Plains / Bitter Dancer
6. Helplessness Blues
7. The Cascades
8. Lorelai
9. Someone You'd Admire
10. The Shrine / An Argument
11. Blue Spotted Tail
12. Grown Ocean