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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 5 May 2011
This is such a fine and beautiful album. I could simply write 'utterly marvellous' or 'recommended' and leave it there, but that wouldn't exactly convey why this is worth parting with one's hard earned spondoolicks! Everything about this album smacks of integrity; there is no doubt that this is the soundtrack to a kind of post-neo-hippy-green-idyll ideology, with a dash of self aware spirituality on top. It could also be said that it is clearly a re-invention of the folk rock genre of the late 1960's with its overt referencing to CSN, Neil Young, Paul Simon, Brian Wilson and others.( On a minor note it is also interesting to hear the tape hiss at points in the recording and to appreciate that the packaging is without plastics ) But this is an excellent piece of work which is audibly full of care and compassion. It isn't afraid to wear its references boldly although this is clearly not folk-rock genre karaoke. Fleet Foxes are the real deal;wonderfully fresh-sounding, genuine artists. Robin Pecknold is, of course the driving force here and his lyrical work is very fine indeed. As ever, the harmony arrangements are superb with Casey Westcott taking some of the honours in that department.There are moments here, on Helplessness Blues, where the neck prickles, as if the marriage of words and music is connecting internally and there is a real sense that these are musicians who are in it for the music, for the truth of that,nothing more, producing an excellent listening experience. The album celebrates, cherishes, challenges and questions the experience of humanity and it is a completely humanistic piece of work. "Montezuma" is a well-considered opener. "Bedouin Dress" livens things up yet it still has the key Fleet Foxes touches of texture and mood within the arrangement. Is it only a matter of time before Crosby and Nash want to guest on a Fleet Foxes album? "Sim Sala Bim" could be a class track by CSN, mostly Crosbyesque and very fine indeed for it."Battery Kinzie" isn't so far from The La's in feel. It really doesn't take a stretch of imagination to hear Lee Mavers singing this.For me the album really goes up a notch from track five, "The Plains/Bitter Dancer" which breaks some new ground for the Foxes, like a cross between CSNY and Yann Tierssen. It possesses stunningly good harmonies possessing a sense of real human majesty; the kind of feeling evoked from big choral works."Helplessness Blues" is classic Everly Brothers/Simon and Garfunkel in style and tone to begin with, then it opens up into the classic Fleet Foxes vista of harmony. Fabulous stuff, this confirms that we are in the midst of a really top-notch recording. For me,"The Cascades" is simply the beautiful, modest heart of this album. It is truly magnificent. I won't labour the point and go through the remaining songs in detail. Suffice to say, they are great. "Lorelai" has strong shades of Brian Wilson in the harmony arrangement ` rather like the sound of "Holland" rather than "Smile" in parts. "Blue Spotted Tail" is clearly referenced from the work of Paul Simon and is great for it. This album has a fairly immediate modest appeal but it does not wane. It is a grower. Beautifully recorded. Up to now this is my album choice of 2011.Highly recommended.
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on 2 May 2011
The plaintive harmonies and get-back-to-the-country imagery of Fleet Foxes' well-received 2008 self-titled debut Fleet Foxes helped define a musical movement of 21st Century bands in search of lost, 19th Century ideals: Midlake, Blitzen Trapper, Bon Iver. Now the Seattle sextet returns with the far more ambitious "Helplessness Blues" (Sub Pop).

Though the melodies aren't quite as instantly memorable, the album is in many ways superior to its predecessor.
The band's multi-part harmonies function more as a piece of the wide-screen arrangements rather than the dominant feature.
The voice of Robin Pecknold is more out front and lyrically direct; against an intricate web of counterpoint melodies, he plays the troubled narrator wrestling with his place in the world.
Employing everything from woodwinds to Tibetan singing bowls, with finger-picked acoustic guitars sailing atop rumbling timpani, the band makes a wonderful sound: rich but not overstuffed, intricate but not labored, virtuosic without sounding like anyone's showing off. The songs don't stick to verse-chorus formula, they're more like mini-suites that turn and twist without drawing attention to their complexity.

If there's a shortcoming, it's that the band is almost too subtle for its own good; all that beauty and detail is rarely played for dramatic effect.
When Pecknold's pristine voice rises and finally cracks on "The Shrine/An Argument", followed by a free-jazz freak-out, it's the type of musical jolt the rest of the album lacks.

But such outbursts probably wouldn't make sense in fleshing out the album's central theme.
"Could I wash my hands of just looking out for me?" Pecknold sings on "Montezuma".
On the title song, he declares his desire to "be a functioning cog in some great machinery, serving something beyond me".

In striving for more self-less version of self, Pecknold and his excellent band have made an album that embraces modesty. Which is why it may take a few listens for its rarefied combination of beauty and anxiety to hit home.
In this case, another virtue that Pecknold extols -- patience - has its rewards. G. Kot

The Courage Of Others
For Emma Forever Ago
Destroyer of the Void
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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 mean minded review full of tired cliches that in itself should encourage you to buy it. The reason is that "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. It contrasts with the joyous "Battery Kinzie" probably the song that could have sat most happily on their debut. The albums centerpieces are two episodic songs of which first up is "The Plains/Bitter Dancer" a six minute journey containing some of the albums best harmonies and the albums longest track "The Shrine/An argument" a sort of baroque "Paranoid Android' with a powerful vocal by Pecknold which takes us on a journey from folk to a wig out free jazz conclusion. It is stirring perfection and will take audiences by storm on the forthcoming UK tour.

Other highlights include "Lorelai" which owes a huge debt to one of Dylan's best but not always most heralded songs "4th Time Round" from "Blonde on Blonde". Then there is the intriguing instrumental "Cascades", the slightly jazzy "Bedouin Dress" and two of the most gorgeous songs Pecknold has penned. First the lush "Something to admire" and the truly sublime sparse acoustics of "Blue Spotted Tail" where we can forgive Pecknold's "hippy" affectations for the wonderful sweet yearning which underpins it. The whole thing is topped off with the cherry on the cake that is "Grown Ocean" which was the highlight of the set they performed on Jools Holland with Pecknold's voice cracking as the songs pace picked up and surged. It starts with him announcing "In that dream I'm as old as the mountains/Still is starlight reflected in fountains/Children grown on the edge of the ocean/Kept like jewellery kept with devotion". It builds to a massive acoustic crescendo with the band firing on all cylinders and concludes with a gentle verse.

It is a fitting ending to an album, which sees the band radically redefine as oppose to reinvent their sound, but by doing so build on the brilliance of their debut and actually "outpunch" it. This album is a flashbulb moment for music in 2011. It sets down an American benchmark for others to aspire towards, in the same way that PJ Harvey's "Let England Shake" has done this side of the Atlantic. God knows how the Fleet Foxes follow this album (although we thought that after "Ragged Wood" and the "Sun Giant EP") for as it stands "Helplessness Blues" is the sound of rock music redemption.
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on 12 September 2011
My son and I share an appreciation of Brian Wilson, and he (my son) has been reccomending Fleet Foxes for some time. I bought this album, and I HAVE JUST BEEN BLOWN AWAY! I just cant get enough. Grown Ocean, Lorelai, Helplessness Blues. For me, it's all flawless. On a separate note, and although not on this album, the lead singer, Robin Peckfold does a great cover version of Crayon Angels, which in my opinion is better than the original. Can't wait for Fleet Foxes to come back to the UK so that I can see them live.
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on 18 May 2011
I've really tried to get into this album, but it has nothing like the personality of the first one. The whole thing sounds like a well written, beautifully sung, disgruntled sigh.

There are no memorable tunes, with one song seeming to run into the next - the omnipresent harmonies not helping to distinguish the songs from each other. Lyrically there are some real moments that make me cringe: "ruffled the fur of the collie 'neath the table" being one example that makes my toes curl.

The fleet foxes certainly make a pleasant sound, but this release is simply crushingly dull. Good background music but not much else.
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on 11 May 2011
..disappointment. Listened to this in the car on a long journey yesterday - just me and Mr Pecknold for 50 minutes (it could have been longer, it certainly felt like it). The other Foxes are audible throughout in the background but it's Robin's show. While there are flashes of brilliance with some beautiful lyrics and sounds, there's an air of self-indulgence here and few memorable tunes. Many songs noodle on and drift away leaving little behind... All very frustrating really.
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on 26 June 2011
helplessness blues is quite literally one of the finest albums i have listened to recently. every track flows into the next beautifully, making the album as a whole incredibly enjoyable to listen to.

the contrast between tracks, for example, 'blue spotted tail' and 'battery kinzie', also provided great dynamics to the album.

overall. just as good as their first album. and in some places even better.
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on 15 December 2011
I am a Hip Hop head.

I've grown admiring the lyricism of such artistry as Nas' 'It Ain't Hard to Tell' and Raekwon's 'Heaven or Hell'.

However, I am glad I crossed into the fertile lagoon of another genre with this album. After hearing a review from the Needle Drop, (shout out to Anthony Fantano) I downloaded both of Fleet Foxes albums. I much preferred the debut album initially, only liking may 3- 4 tracks on 'Helplessness Blues'... initially.

But, give it time...

The more I listened.
The more I loved.
The more I understood.
The more I appreciated.

Wondrous tones fit to be inscribed in illustrious tomes. The words of the songs are like seeds cast into the compost of the mind.

Give it time.

The seedlings sprout. The lyricism about maturity has a universality and relatability that I believe has allowed this work of art by a Seattle Band to become one of the best albums of all time for a young man across the Atlantic living in the city of London, the son of Ghanaian migrants, with very little previous connection to this 'type' of music.

A great album. A truly special album. A grower.

'Helplessness Blues' surpasses the self titled debut.

Give it time.

In terms of the importance of the lyricism, the weight of the words and how they reach into the very essence of human life it is a timeless piece of work. The words reach into you and create a home in your mind.

Give it time.

For the Hip Hop heads out there, this will not disappoint. The lyricism on this album is reminiscent of the more abstract musings on GZA's 'Liquid Swords' in terms of their raw quality and subtly eccentric distinctiveness.

A true classic.
5 stars.
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on 8 August 2011
Overall i'm very pleased with this album. The fleet foxes sound is still in it, though as a whole it is a little more sombre than their first album. 'Helplessness Blues' the song of the album title is the most lively and likely to be the most popular, however the songs such as 'Grown Ocean', 'Lorelai' and 'The Plain/ Bitter Dancer' are also very similair to the first album (in a good way). The best songs on the album though are the 'new' sounds. These include 'Someone You Admire', 'Blue Spotted Tail' and 'The Cascades' which focuses more on acoustic and vocals than with the mixed in, quite chaotic percussion.

This is an excellent album that's very listenable and rewarding to those willing to really sit and spend a while soaking it all in with a decent sound system as the recording quality far surpasses that of the first album where 'reverb' could be heard from the vocals. A must buy for any who liked their first album or any of the singles from this one except for maybe helplessness blues as the rest of the album isn't quite so 'pop' style.
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on 8 December 2011
In my opinion, a hugely disappointing second album.On the plus side,however there are 3 great songs on it;llorelei,montezuma and grown ocean. This seems to me like a Robin Pecknold solo effort with a bit of help from the other Fleet Foxes, which is not playing to their collective strengths of harmony+melody,qualities sadly missing on all the other 9 tracks.
ps I loved their first album which is still one of my favourites.
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