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Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues - Sub Pop

Seattle’s Fleet Foxes surprised even themselves with the success of their debut album. Fleet Foxes (the album) was an extraordinary introduction to the band’s harmonic bliss and rural sonic landscapes. For indie rock audiences, the band ushered in unprecedented warmth with their music and an approach that was honest and rather unassuming. Yet faced with the reality of their follow-up record, the band found itself in the precarious situation of dealing with grand expectations. The process of making what would become Helplessness Blues was well-documented as the band dealt with the demons of uncertainty and frustration.

While some of that uncertainty may have begun to rub off on fans, the hard truth is that the final product is all that matters. And Helplessness Blues is an album that was worth the wait. Frontman Robin Pecknold even uses some of that doubt that may have hindered the development of these songs as the fuel for the creative concept behind the entire album. As he describes on the Sub Pop website: “one of the prevailing themes of the album is the struggle between who you are and who you want to be or who you want to end up”. And despite a darker tone, there is a strange comfort to the songs that follow this theme. The album’s title track (which is also the album’s signature moment) battles with the significance of even addressing “helplessness blues” in song. And disguised in the albums most bombastic moments, “Battery Kinzie,” the subject describes himself as “a dying man without a chance.”

As a sophomore album, Helplessness Blues succeeds across the board. Surely, the tone is not that of joy or delight but the songs have substance and slight glimmer of hopefulness. For Pecknold, as a songwriter, he’s achieved the rare feat of engaging his audience on a whole new level. He’s candid and artful in his presentation and ultimately relatable. And while it’s easy to get wrapped up in Pecknold’s voice and stories, the band as a whole has also matured. The harmonies that were so much the band’s calling card from their debut are not as emphasized this time around. Yet that warmth and comfort remain. The song structures breathe easier and welcome a wider range of instrumentation. This all leads to a more expansive and bigger sound for Fleet Foxes. Regardless of how many bumps were in the road leading up to the completion of Helplessness Blues, the finished product plays pristine.

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