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May 9, 2011 | by  | in Music |
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Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Wow, this record sounds amazing. It features fully live instrumentation with complex four- or five-part vocal harmonies.

So, Everything you’ve come to expect from Fleet Foxes. It’s dark-sounding folk music, taking influence from bands like Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Simon & Garfunkel, but Fleet Foxes make it less cheesy and darker. Kind of like Grizzly Bear’s appropriation of Beach Boys-style harmonies, Fleet Foxes is a new, darker, more modern-sounding take on a ’60s and ’70s thing.

Let me warn all you young whippersnappers out there, Helplessness Blues can get a little adult contemporary. Just because it’s kind of retro doesn’t mean it’s a Strokes record, kids. I could imagine Fleet Foxes playing Michael Fowler to a seated crowd of middle-aged people eating cheese and drinking wine. But that’s part of the beauty of Fleet Foxes—they have wide appeal, and it’s no mystery why. They are exceptional performers with excellent taste. This isn’t all that common. The number of times I go and see a band play down at Mighty Mighty and they sing out of tune and sound bad… Well, it’s too many times. Thank god for the Fleet Foxes, I say! But not just because of their fantastic vocal performance and arrangements—the songs are great.

Lyrically, the album seems to have themes of growing up and feeling a bit useless. These themes are a little lost on this early 20s reviewer. But, even though the vocals are very forward in the mix, the record can be enjoyed without even delving into the lyrical side of it. This is in part due to its rich and complex instrumentation. In ‘Lorelai’, I can hear a couple of acoustic guitars, mandolin, glockenspiel, electric guitar, tambourine, drum kit, bass guitar, at least four voices, and various woodwind orchestral instruments. This makes for a huge sound—there’s a very Pet Sounds feel to the record, with strange sounds being mixed in with the more traditional, pop orchestra instrumentation (for example, the big footstomping on ‘Lorelai’). There are also lots of much more low key moments on the record. ‘Someone You’d Admire’ starts off with a single acoustic guitar and voice, expanding with a second guitar and a second voice. These more stripped back songs sound like they’re being played in a giant, empty auditorium. This underscores the record’s instrumental theme: a sound of loneliness, longing, and some dudes having crazy good voices.

After a couple of listens, I feel that the album has an overall sound to it, but that the songs don’t necessarily stand out individually. Perhaps I just don’t have my head in the Crosby, Stills & Nash zone enough, but many of the songs use similar, close, dark sound harmonies with soft, folky instrumentation. This results in Fleet Foxes having a very certain, well-defined overall sound, but it also means there aren’t any sweet standout pop singles on the record. An album full of album cuts is great when the music sounds this good, so go and listen to it. I just want to hear these guys play a more straight-up pop song.

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  1. anon says:

    Would they be smashing the patriarchy while eating cheese and wine and listening to FF, or is that only sometimes?

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