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Helplessness Blues

4.2 out of 5 stars 186 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Fleet Foxes are from Seattle and the members of the band are Robin Pecknold, Skye Skjelset, Josh Tillman, Casey Wescott, Christian Wargo, and Morgan Henderson. The first Fleet Foxes album (Fleet Foxes) was released on Sub Pop in 2008, and though the band s intention was to record a new album in the 6-8 months following its release, the reception of the record was such that Fleet Foxes found themselves very busy, touring consistently through the end of 2009.

Engineered and mixed by Phil Ek and co-produced by Phil and the band, the new Fleet Foxes record is called Helplessness Blues. Recording for Helplessness Blues began in April 2010 at Dreamland Recording in Woodstock, NY and continued off and on through November of that same year back in Seattle at numerous studios, including Bear Creek, Reciprocal Recording and Avast. Like very nearly every worthwhile thing, making this album was not easy; it was a difficult second album to make. Drawing inspiration from folk/rock from about 1965 to 1973, and Van Morrison s Astral Weeks in particular, Helplessness Blues sees Fleet Foxes heighten and extend themselves, adding instrumentation (clarinet, the music box, pedal steel guitar, lap steel guitar, Tibetan singing bowls, vibraphone, etc., along with more traditional band instrumentation), with a focus on clear, direct lyrics, and an emphasis on group vocal harmonies. We have it on good authority that the album is called Helplessness Blues for at least a couple of reasons. One, it's kind of a funny title. Secondly, 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 how sometimes you are the only thing getting in the way of that.

Having heard Helplessness Blues, we mean to get out of its way.

Review

" ...a triumphant follow-up to a blockbuster debut." - Best New Music, 8.8 out of 10 --Pitchfork

"The year's most beautiful album." - 9 out of 10 (May, 2011) --Spin

"dazzling" - 4 Stars --Rolling Stone
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Digital Booklet: Helplessness Blues
Digital Booklet: Helplessness Blues
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (May 3, 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Sub Pop
  • ASIN: B004LL1HM4
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (186 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,264 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Red on Black TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 3, 2011
Format: MP3 Music
Something remarkable is going on here and its great to watch and listen. Two observations to start with, if as suggested in the music press that Fleet Foxes main man Robin Pecknold has poured his heart and soul into their second album "Helplessness blues" it has paid off and this not only equals their great debut but surpasses it. The second reflection is that New Musical Express has given this album a paltry two stars in a hideously awful review from an increasingly irrelevant music magazine. This in itself should encourage you to buy it since "Helplessness blues" is a triumphant classic and while its stays firmly within the orbit of harmony heavy folk rock of "Ragged Wood" it marks a substantial and mature progression for this Seattle band. This is particularly pronounced in terms of Pecknold's songwriting skills which take off into the stratosphere and the band produce some of the greatest soaring harmony singing this side of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bookends" and the great debut by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Start with the brilliant title track. This song is divided into two parts firstly a introspective set of lyrics by Pecknold leads to a vocal tour de force which at 2.58 then moves into a sublime Fleet Foxes harmony workout. It is easily one of the best songs released this year but is matched on the album but equally bold contributions. "Sim Sala Bim" is delightful haunting folk song which splits into two parts with the CSN influence especially pronounced in its forceful second part. The reflective opener "Montezuma" sees Pecknold in a pensive mood questioning, "So now I am older/Than my mother and father/, When they had their daughter/Now what does that say about me" over almost warm religious style harmonies.
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It seems to me like most bands either try to change too much with their second album, and in the process lose their sound, or they just rehash the first album and reveal themselves as one-trick ponies. Fleet Foxes do neither of these things. This album is different, but not too different. Lyrically, the focus has changed from interpersonal relationships and family to introspection and society...so their moving inward and outward at the same time. These guys are all improving as musicians. This material is more complex and the performances are closer to perfect. The singing and drums are especially tight. Overall, it's what you'd expect if you've been listening to these guys for a few years, and if you've enjoyed their other stuff than you will probably like this. My only complaint is that some of the arrangements may be too complex and the soundscape becomes too saturated at times. That's not enough to keep me from giving it a 5-star rating though. Enjoy!
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Fleet Foxes seemingly came out of nowhere in 2008 with the promising "Sun Giant" EP, followed later in the year with their self-titled album, which immediately won critical acclaim. After lots of touring and a botched attempt to record a new album (the band scrapped the first recording sessions), now finally comes the highly anticipated second album.

"Helplessness Blues" (12 tracks; 50 min.) is no radical departure from the first album, sounding ever more gorgeous, if anything. Singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold continues to explore the sounds of spaceous folk-rock, with clear influences from Simon and Garfunkel, and the intrecate vocal interplay (reminicent of, say, the Beach Boys) are even more in the forefront than on the debut album. All of of this is a good thing. The album kicks off with a gentle "Montezuma" and great tracks follow one after another. It is clear that Pecknold has thrown his heart and soul into making this album. Special mention goes to track 5, "The Plains/Bitter Dancer", which is really several songs into one track, but it works just beautiful. The title track follows, and is of course nothing "blues"-like, but in the ache that the song brings about. A short instrumental "The Gascades" is the bridge into the second half of the album. "Lorelai" is a sunny love-song. It eventually leads to track 11 "Blue Spotted Tail", just Pecknold solo on acoustic guitar, and it would be a fine album closer in my book. But it is followed by one more track "Grown Ocean", which is not bad, but somehow for me it felt like one song too many. But it's a minor quibble, to be honest. In all, this is clearly one of the best albums of the year so far.
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Really liking this album. If I had to tell you the "recipe" for this music, I'd say take the progressive, haunting style of the group, YES, add a helping of the harmonies of CSNY. Then spice it up with the more modern, folky Decemberists, just a splash of the group, America, and maybe even a pinch of Simon and Garfunkel.

The only problem I have with them is that I'd like to see more instrumental passages, but the harmonies more than make up for that. That's what defines this album. Beautiful.

If you like those groups above, a good place to start is the song Sim Sala Bim. I think it's the best of the album. Go anywhere from there. It's all addicive.
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