fri 19/07/2024

CD: Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

CD: Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Propelled forwards by more assured songwriting and a more forceful delivery

Fleet Foxes' 'Helplessness Blues': More than a few left turns

Without intending to, Fleet Foxes set a benchmark with their debut album in 2008. One that resonated. So much so that the release of their second album, Helplessness Blues, is accompanied by sell-out shows at top-drawer venues. The love of their sensitively delivered, beautifully crafted and emotive folk rock is clear. But anyone expecting a rerun of the debut on Helplessness Blues is in for a surprise. What’s known and loved is here.

There’re also more than a few left turns.

Fleet Foxes will keep the fans they have, but the broadened musical palette and new idiosyncrasies exhibited on Helplessness Blues will propel them even further. They aren’t a template band. FF main man Robin Pecknold has said that the mood of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks was an influence on Helplessness Blues, as was a lot of what would be expected (Neil Young, John Jacob Niles, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judee Sill and so on). He’s also talked about harmony-pop legends Sagittarius, The Zombies, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, the baroque British songwriter Duncan Browne and The Electric Prunes. All classic, some more garagey and jagged than others.

The David Crosby If I Could Only Remember My Name approach is present and correct on opening cut “Montezuma”, but a country feel shyly surfaces on the next track “Bedouin Dress”. The dulcimers underpinning the hymnal “Sim sala bim” point towards the Appalachians - and its wildly strummed coda explicitly nods at “Marrakesh Express” and British folk rockers The Trees. Does Pecknold sound a little bit Art Garfunkel on “Blue Spotted Tail”?

It’s with “The Plains/Bitter Dancer” that the psychedelic flavour really kicks in. Vocal rounds and looping acoustic guitar give way to affecting lone vocals, drawing you into a song that unfolds like a piece of early-Seventies British folk rock that’s better than anything you’ve heard. “The Shrine/An Argument” clinches it – the songwriting is now more assured, the delivery more forceful, dissonant even, yet this is still the same band. At the six-and-a-half-minute mark it turns into a cousin of the discordant “Fire”, from The Beach Boys's Smile. Pecknold has acknowledged that Helplessness Blues was tortuous to make, but whatever the process, Fleet Foxes have moved forward faster than any of their four-legged, red-furred namesakes could, even in flight.

Watch the video for Helplessness Blues’s “Grown Ocean”

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters