Fleet Foxes

Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)

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.

***

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Fleet Foxes
ACL Live Shots
Fleet Foxes

Doug Freeman, Oct. 3, 2008

ACL Fest Saturday Interviews
Fleet Foxes
After the gold rush

Doug Freeman, Sept. 26, 2008

More Music Reviews
Texas Platters
... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
X: The Godless Void and Other Stories (Record Review)

Alejandra Ramirez, Feb. 21, 2020

Texas Platters
Daniel Johnston
Chicago 2017 (Record Review)

Raoul Hernandez, Feb. 21, 2020

More by Raoul Hernandez
Summer Fun Playlist: Forget the Piñatas
Summer Fun Playlist: Forget the Piñatas

May 29, 2020

New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
What we’re playing

May 29, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Fleet Foxes

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle