Timeless harmonies and lush pastoral folk arrangements are the hallmarks of Fleet Foxes and this their second album sticks close to the formula.
But there are some noticeable differences. On the plus side they’ve ramped up the production value. There’s a crisper feel to the music. Another positive is that even greater care and time has been taken over the arrangements.
Under the production of the band and Phil Ek the album takes what were once jams around lead singer Robin Pecknold’s melancholy songs and adds depth and feeling. Just at the right point on second track ‘Bedouin Dress’ for example a beautiful violin comes in. On the title track the build up of electric guitars from the middle onwards is another great moment as is the transition between ‘The Plains/Bitter Dancer’, which form the fifth track.
It is this latter track that heralds the best segment of the album that includes the Pentangle-esque instrumental ‘The Cascades’ and my stand out track on the album ‘Lorelai’.
On the downside Helplessness Blues lacks the killer tunes and melodies of their debut, such as ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ and ‘White Winter Hymnal’, or those on their Sun Giant EP.
Does this matter? Maybe over time it will, but for me it doesn’t matter too much at the moment. The vocal harmonies, guitar parts and inclusion of flutes are supurb enough to carry this album straight to a provisional slot on this site’s and many others’ end of year lists. Surely the point of music is to please the listener anyway and what Helplessness Blues lacks in strong melody it more than makes up for in its beautiful sound.
This reviewer is helped by living in the Somerset countryside in the UK, and this album has been mostly heard walking the dog through butterfly filled meadows; the very imagery Pecknold holds dear.
by Joe Lepper