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Fleet Foxes

Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)

Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., June 10, 2011

Phases & Stages

Fleet Foxes

Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)

Fleet Foxes' Sun Giant EP in 2008 took Beach Boys harmonies monastic with a rolling, chiming, Pacific Northwest folk begging instant timelessness. Two months later, the Seattle band's eponymous LP flourished with a rich renaissance of indie roots and blues, bandleader Robin Pecknold following in the reverb-gilded footsteps of My Morning Jacket's Jim James and Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell in voicing Neil Young into a choir of restless ascension. Helplessness Blues pines for Fleet Foxes kills "White Winter Hymnal" and "He Doesn't Know Why," but that's a relative fault given the group's thrilling ambition. Where its predecessor corralled modern versions of The Canterbury Tales that the band's foxhunting moniker continues to evoke, Pecknold's Helplessness relies on a suitelike flow in the absence of greatest hits. Taking a page from the Neil Young songbook on opener "Montezuma," the frontman's opening melancholic ("So now I am older/Than my mother and father/When they had their daughter/Now what does that say about me?"), and chorus ("Oh man what I used to be/Oh man oh my oh me!"), leaves little doubt as to the price of following up a critical smash. "Bedouin Dress" laces Middle Eastern accents into the baggage its fictional setting evokes in a word alone – Innisfree – the mythic invocation making a bookend return at album's end on "The Shrine/An Argument." "Sim Sala Bim" arcs a delicate Simon & Garfunkel introduction into full-on "Bridge Over Troubled Water" – sans the anthemics – after which connective pieces and instrumentals overtake the song craft. Even the energetic strum of the title track never digs its hooks deep enough despite the lyrical orchard of its second movement achieving a Biblical weight. Side two falls together better with the bittersweet "Lorelai" waltzing through the best and brightest hook here ("So, guess I got old/I was like trash on the sidewalk"), and more early Paul Simon-esque showing in the abstract beauty of "Someone You'd Admire." Closer "Grown Ocean" swells and crashes, as uncontained as the rest of Helplessness Blues.

***

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