FLEET FOXES – Helplessness Blues (Bella Union)

The few reviews that I read of Fleet Foxes’ follow-up to their superb 2008 debut album is that it sounded too much like their previous effort and the band hadn’t moved on. Well, I am glad that it sounds the same, as the whole reason that I love the band so much is that they found a unique sound – for the time – and that is what I want to hear. ‘Montezuma’ opens the album with a simple melody and the harmony vocals which made their name, and it is exactly what I wanted to hear. ‘Bedouin Dress’ ups the pace for a jaunty - almost commercial - but still instantly recognisable FF song, and Alina To’s guest violin adds to the atmosphere. ‘Sim Sala Bim’ starts off in the same vein and then breaks down to close with an acoustic section which just fades away to nothing. ‘Battery Kinzie’ is the first track that really harks back to that debut, with a tune that you feel you have always known and a sturdy delivery by the band, which is just what it needs. ‘The Plains / Bitter Dancer’ is acknowledged by the band as a collage, and the first part’s massed harmony vocals do seem at odds with the gentle folk of the second part, but when they take a break for an a capella section and then surge back for the finale you realise that oddly enough it does seem to work perfectly. The title track, and lead single, is one of Robin Pecknold’s confessional songs about the state of his life, but at least in this one there is hope at the end, with his wish to live a simple life with an orchard to work in and a girl-friend to wait tables. ‘The Cascades’ is something of a departure for the band – an instrumental, but it fits in nicely between the title track and the lush Beach Boys harmonies of ‘Lorelai’. This track was just made to be released as a single, and if and when it appears as one it should turn a whole new group of people on to the band. ‘The Shrine / An Argument’ is the second of their ‘collage’ songs, and this one is the first tine that the band try to break out of their stereotype and do something different – in this case an atonal sax solo that takes up the whole of the second part of the song (‘An Argument’ seems to be the perfect title for it). It is the only thing on the whole album that I feel does not work, and yet that seemed to be exactly what mags like the NME wanted – progression for the sake of it? Stick to what you do best, and the fans will follow. ‘Blue Spotted Tail’ is more like it – almost a Pecknold solo track with him and his acoustic sitting by the campfire and picking out a simple song. ‘Grown Ocean’ closes the album with a track that epitomises the band – lush harmony vocals, a strong vocal by Pecknold, a pounding beat and catchy melody all make this the ideal track to end the album. For me, this is the perfect follow-up to ‘Fleet Foxes’, and if you loved the first album you will love this. If, however, like the NME, you want to hear a band that have moved on and progressed then you obviously want a band other than FF.