Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (Bella Union/Sub Pop)

A release so evocative of the new season, it heralds the sun at every given opportunity.

Released May 9th, 2011 via Bella Union / By Clementine Lloyd
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (Bella Union/Sub Pop) Given the history of Fleet Foxes, their ability to grow and develop by degress since their eponymous EP release in 2006 stands in line with their own creation. Formerly Pineapple, changing name due to a title-clash with another band traipsing the Seattle scene, and consisting solely of Skyler Skjelset and Robin Pecknold before they had accumulated the rest of the five-piece, the slow draw on new elements is a major watermark within their creative repertoire. Basking in the suffuse glow that is Helplessness Blues, the subtle nuances keep ties with previous LP releases, but with a mature rural root. Sprawling and evocative, with elemental reference to the dawn, sunlight and everything that spreads across the day, into the twilight.

The lyrical sentiments of ‘Montezuma’ infuse the worldly sense of growth, “Oh now that I am older, than my mother and father” whilst imparting an impossible notion that can only ever be philosophical. Its hymnal, almost Gregorian choral harmonies and reminiscent lilts are softly hung with the accompaniment of the deep base drum, melting like chocolate over the cicada tambourines. Setting the scenes that shape each moment like this are feats of true engineering, the opener shapes expectations of what is to come, backed up in ‘Battery Kinzie’, a bountiful driving posture that recalls to your mind the weather-beaten plains that you may have never seen, but are strongly envisioned nonetheless.

‘Bedouin Dress’ breaks with the softly softly approach, ebbing into the opener before unleashing a pop-drenched lifting carriage, a vehicle that is alive with bouncy riffs and hand claps, filling the space between Pecknold’s vocals with expertly carved Violin notes that create a saxophone sensation at the back of your mind. Very trippy! It is joy amplified in a heady sense of rural simplicity. ‘Sim Sala Bim’ continues this theme, drawing in tougher elemental climbs and heavy pulls on the kick-drum, as the mandolin notes shimmer over the top like stars. This is possibly one of the only tracks on the Record that evokes the darkening night, a trip with a Gentleman “tied to the ocean side”. It serves as a cooling cocoon of shady goodness, second only to the onomatopoeic quality of ‘The Cascades’. Light in its timbre, raining down on you with light plucked strings and tougher structural riffs, it seeps through your skin and nestles behind your ribs, tucked up against your heart-strings.

Speaking of, there are some definite drives towards the tales of the broken hearted, though as with the overarching harmonies and lilting backdrops that create a sprawling and palatial setting, these stories form part of a much bigger idea. Most notably fabling an ending affair, ‘Lorelai’ holds the events out at a distance, capturing the wise backwards glance of a jilted lover. “I slept through July, while you made tracks in the heather” recalls an unpalatable difference in feeling, whilst never failing to draw on the open spaces that housed it all, its lightly melancholic reticence shaded through the beautifully hazy arrangement. ‘Someone You Admire’ is similarly steeped in sadness, rough strummed heavy chords surfing the wave of self-doubt and reluctant acceptance, with prominent harmonies seeming to shout for validation from an unknown figure.

Marking a new turning in moments of two part-ers ‘The Plaines/Bitter Dancer’ and ‘The Shrine/An Argument’, there is a grand filmic sensation defining Fleet Foxes ability to take disparate structures and twist them in to one being alive with texture and character. The latter, proffering a tough exterior that gives way to a fresh rolling sound, is embittered through lyrics “in the ocean washing off my name from your robe”, strongly drawing on the violence of a will to forget as the tribal drums recall the base strength of raw emotion. Moving on through this to a fresh calm of an orchard, it acts as a breeze rippling over the ocean, before sparse beats and strings house the wildly elephantine howling of a set of reedy instruments, almost indefinable. The former plays out a more glacial affair, those well known hymnal harmonies softening the tough base drum, formulating ‘The Plaines’ that fill every inch of your imagination, before dropping away to reveal the chiding mandolin and its ‘Bitter Dancer’, a story of a faceless character trussed up in mystery. The somber flute creates a hollow atmospheric brake, holding silence before Pecknolds vocals drop back, and we are witness to a torrent of crashing symbols and torrid base notes. It is wild yet restrained, a rough beauty.

Perhaps the most beautiful track, though, is the painstaking title track ‘Helplessness Blues’. As the debut single from the album, and a flagship of effort, it could not be more perfect. Strongly heralding the will for a simple lifestyle, free from the trappings of a society who’s “men who move only in dimly lit halls and determine my future for me”. The change in pace is expertly stitched throughout, a solitary riff formulating the backbone or the first half, before drawing in the softly bubbling base, the harmonies cultivated to a perfect degree. The lyrical lilt of “if I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m raw” and “Gold hair in the sunlight, my light in the dawn” is twinned with the slow beat of the tribal drum and the secondary occasional riff of the electric guitar. To try and define this is pretty tough going. It deserves a place in the music halls of history. The record as an entirety is phenomenally put together, etching itself on your subconscious. Fleet Foxes should be rubbing shoulders with the greats, revered for all time. Lets hope they will be. For many, many years to come.