Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Review: Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

The first time I listened to this album, apart from the two singles I was already familiar with none of the other tracks really jumped out at me. But with a few listens to this album it reveals itself to be a progressive work of brilliance. Nicely crafted songs and lots of interesting, intricate melodies that come and go, but link up nicely with other parts of the album. Opening track 'Montezuma' is a beautiful introduction to the record, with sky high harmonies and delicate, grand arrangements before 'Bedouin Dress' picks up the pace with a jaunty bit of folk that provides the most upbeat moment on the record. 'Sim Sala Bim' begins with gentle acoustic guitar picking before the song builds then quietens down, and then bursts back into life with hard strumming and lively mandolins, almost sounding like something from 'Led Zeppelin III'. The single 'Battery Kinzie' brings more lush harmonies and big orchestration before 'The Plains/Bitter Dancer' provides a double-header of slow-burning beauty, as well as complex little twists and ever-changing acoustic hooks. The title track is blissful, a sad but lively campfire strum that soon bursts into a dreamy soundscape of wonderful vocals and engaging soft guitar. 'The Cascades' is a perfect instrumental, very delicate and pretty but with touches of a storm brewing, and 'Lorelei' is stunning with its sad, beautiful chorus of "I was old news to you then" and lyrics bearing lines like "making lines in the heather" that perfectly compliment the pastoral, natural tone of the music.

'The Shrine/An Argument' is the only time they go wrong, with an 8 minute-plus track that has many movements, the second section being the best and most catchy, but the rest of it drags on for far too long, and is ruined further by an outburst of messy free-jazz towards the end. Thank god that 'Blue Spotted Tail' comes next, instantly charming with its minimal acoustic picking, and intimate softly sung lyrics that almost come across like birdsong. The record is closed by 'Grown Ocean', which brings the album's journey through tthe wilderness to a bright end with a lush arrangement, a huge chorus and a bright, positive ending to the record.

Fleet Foxes have made a record that uses all their greatest strengths and builds on them with intelligent, and carefully crafted development. Like a lot of records, these songs make much more sense late at night, when you're relaxed enough to appreciate the beauty of the arrangements and the flourishing melodies. 8/10

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