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Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues

Three years in the making and for all of us fans…waiting, but it was well worth it. From the opening harmonies and notes you know you are about to listen to something special. The artwork, released before the album to attract attention, was enough to get the fans to cue up for the album's release.

This is absolutely one of the best albums of the year. There is nothing missing in over twelve tracks, more like a double album of greatest hits for their patient fans. In addition to this album, Robin Pecknold made available for free some bonus songs he recorded in LA, just before the album was released, including a duet he recorded with Ed Droste from Grizzly Bear. They make a great addition to this album if you can still get them.

Lyrics and music that takes you back to the greatness that was Simon and Garfunkel and expands beyond their grasp into more of the natural world and its witnessed beauty and magic.

Montezuma opens with those vocal harmonies and acoustics which took this band's distinctive sound all over the world on tour back in 2008 and 2009. It's a short song, but full of much of the imagery their first album produced. Reflection, "So now I am older, than my mother and father, when they had their daughter, now what does that say about me?" Yeah, that time of reflection hit especially hard this year for many, so this song was a perfect opener. With this band, as with all of the bands you remember and cherish, the lyrics are just as important as the music. "In dirth or in excess both the slave and the empress will return to the dirt I guess, naked as when they came". Powerful lyrics full of feeling and emotion, placing this band amongst history's legends already.

Bedouin Dress brings more soft acoustic guitar, percussion, and the piano which will play an important role throughout this album. The lyrics again take you back to the past and imagines of beauty and calm. The fiddle and percussion add so much to the harmonics, which just like their last album provide this band with its unique signature. "One day at Innisfree. One day that's mine...there".

Sim Sala Bim opens with more wonderful lyrics and acoustic guitar accompanying Pecknold's vocals. One of my favorite songs on the album. "He was so kind such a gentleman tied to the oceanside…Ruffled the fur of the collie 'neath the table…carved out his initials in the bark". The swelling ocean of sound that follows brings with it a wellspring of emotion as the lyrics, "Are you off somewhere reciting incantations, Sim Sala Bim, on your tongue?", unfold. The rolling acoustic guitar and mandolin romp that fills the end of the song is worth the price of admission alone.

Battery Kinzie takes things in a different direction after the seemingly warm and positive direction the opening tracks had been leading us. However, the tide does turn, "Wide eyed walker, do not wander through the dawn".

The Plains/Bitter Dancer, are full of those wonderful vocal harmonies we remember from the first album, only this time set to new melodies and rhythms full of even more emotion. The Plains is all vocal harmony, whereas Bitter Dancer is full of memorable lyrics that you will be singing long after the track ends. Woodwinds fill the air providing even more feeling.

Helplessness Blues, the title track and first song pre-viewed to fans before the album release is one of the best tracks on the album. It closes what would normally be the first side of a vinyl album with confidence despite the title. Upon hearing this track as a preview I knew I would buy the album without hearing another note. That is how strong it is. By far one of the best songs they have ever written. "I was raised up believing I was somehow unique. Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes unique in each way you can see". Even if Pecknold refutes this idea in the next line of the song, we as fans all know he got it right with the band's uniqueness. They've often been compared to Simon and Garfunkel, and the comparisons couldn't be greater than on this song, but this is magnificent musical harmony which follows in their footsteps, but sets a new course and direction. "If I had an orchard, I'd work 'til I'm sore". Go back to the past, to see what we have lost. Learn from it and bring the best into the present and future to slow the decay of the present helplessness we all feel. No one has said it any better…at least not lately. It's not "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" yet, but it provides a vision to the potential of the future.

For The Cascades, all Washingtonians and Oregonians…salute you! This acoustic instrumental captures the beauty and wild freedom found in one of our area's greatest treasures, the Cascade Mountains. How can you not help but be inspired? More power packed into just over 2 minutes than some can imagine in an album. Great accompanying song to their debut album's Tiger Mountain Pleasant Song.

Lorelai is an incredible salute to this beautiful place as well. Yes, this band is well grounded to the Earth and its beauty and the emotions well up in their songs. "I slept through July, while you made lines in the heather". The acoustic guitar, percussion, mandolin, woodwinds and soft drums are perfect.

Someone You'd Admire is a Pecknold solo vocal, with soft acoustic guitar accompanying. You can feel the personal emotion and feeling of all of these songs, and this one brings out that incredible flood of emotion well.

The best track on the album for me is The Shrine/An Argument. This is the one I just kept playing over and over when I bought the album. One of the best songs of the year. At just past 8 minutes, it is the longest and most epic song on the album. It is full of all that this band can bring to bare musically. Powerful lyrics, the best on either of their albums, and the emotion and acoustic guitar playing that just rivets you to the speakers or headphones. Once the other instruments are added the soundscape becomes massive. Most people assume this is an acoustic band. Well this song will dispel those notions. They can rock with the best. This is the kind of song which can be mentioned in the same sentence as some of the greatest songs of all time. Definitely a keeper. If I wrote about all the wonderful lyrics in this one song it might take ten pages. Instead, listen to it yourself. The fact that they added some wild sounds from under the Fort Warden Water Cistern, out on one of my favorite places to visit, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington only makes me love this song even more. You also may get visions of the sounds of some magical Beatles memories as well during the closing sections of this song, tying it all neatly together for me.

Blue Spotted Tail slows things back down with Pecknold's solo vocal supported with soft acoustic guitar. "Why is life made only for an end?" Excellent way to change direction. Well planned. Brings back so many Beatles/Mc Cartney memories.

Grown Ocean is an energy charged closer that builds emotion and sums up the power present in this incredible album. The accompanying video on You Tube shows the many travels and moments this band has been through during the development of this album. "Children grown on the edge of the ocean". This song, like all of the others is full of great lyrics, "In that dream I could hardly contain it". "All my life I will wait to attain it". "Eucalyptus and orange trees are blooming". That line especially hit home for me as I remember the smell of orange blossoms that filled the air near the home I once lived in Orlando, Florida. "In that dream there's no darkness alluded". This album will capture you from beginning to end. It will not let go and you will end it feeling fulfilled for the journey. I thank the band for sharing this wonderful journey with me and all of their fans across the globe.

Track Listing:

1. Montezuma
2. Bedouin Dress
3. Sim Sala Bim
4. Battery Kinzie
5. The Plains/Bitter Dancer
6. Helplessness Blues
7. The Cascades
8. Lorelai
9. Someone You'd Admire
10. The Shrine/An Argument
11. Blue Spotted tail
12. Grown Ocean

Added: November 26th 2011
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
Related Link: Fleet
Hits: 2038
Language: english

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