Fleet Foxes “Helplessness Blues” – A Work That’s Yours

helplessness_bluesThe self-titled Fleet Foxes debut surprised me. It wasn’t like most art around me. It seemed to come out of the deep past. This happened in the album cover design (a print from Breughel) and in the voices of Robin Pecknold and his bandmates. Their lyrics were laced with language reminiscent of a sermon (“You run with the devil”). The first notes I heard from them absolutely sounded like a hymnal (the spine freezing “Sun Giant”). The voices drifted around each other in perfect harmony and in circles (“White Winter Hymnal”). They were young and ageless, like a lot of that utopian 70s stuff. Or like an oak tree.

This sense of history, for me anyway, was very comforting. But in a way I didn’t understand my kinship with the sound fully until I started listening to the much anticipated follow-up “Helplessness Blues” driving around at night, the wind starting to pick up with its commanding voice. Fleet Foxes just seem to fit into a space better, and don’t exactly try to be in the center of that space. The way most kids in school are trained in vocal is to project and sing outward, often sound like they were in a musical. But 6 voices like that could never sound how the Foxes do together. And in harmony comes a river or a gust of wind, something collective and all around us.

Where is one trained to sing in synch with rhythms of the invisible and inevitable? Not in many places anymore. This Fleet Foxes know how to do, and it seems the unlikely setting of rock music and shows where young artists can figure out this equation. I think of the way Simon and Garfunkel’s voices blend into each other on my favorite subtle tracks on Bookends. Nate Lacey in Mimicking Birds is trying to figure it out. My Morning Jacket would like to if there weren’t so many parties. The Fleet Foxes, beards and all, seem to fall into this nature spirit style better than anyone who has flirted with it. They don’t just sing, but build an atmosphere that’s incredibly recognizable and often ancient.

So ancient, sometimes, that it makes you feel like you’re crawling back into nature. It should please Fleet Foxes fan to know that this one sounds really, really old. Some track titles: “Montezuma,” “Bedouin Dress,” “The Plains, “The Shrine/An Argument.” Just name some empty, far off, majestic, communal land, and these guys are there. The history returns in the circles of “Lorelai,” where we can hear old choirs and Bob Dylan’s “Fourth Time Around.” There is one track here where they speak to today’s issues (malaise, overwhelmed feelings, indecision). On “Helplessness Blues” they still find a way back to nature.

“Everything I see in the world is so inconceivable often I barely can speak….”

The answer, as much as any folk musician can provide an answer, arrives at the most poignant moment of the record.

“If I had an orchard I’d work till I’m raw/ If I had an orchard I’d work till I’m sore.”

So there it is. The desire to be back in a place where each of us can hold the work we work. It sounds easy and simple, and yet it isn’t. When they finally find it the words command that voices, strings, and the frittering electric guitar become a soft percussion together, a gentle ascent. From the supple interplay between acoustic guitars and exotic guitars, to the clarity of their voices, period, shape takes form. We identify with the inward integrity of “Montezuma’s” take on regret. We can pretty much hold and know this piece of work. Which is all we could ask of anything.


Today is the record release day for Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues. okc.net highly reccomends you pick up a copy along with OK Sweetheart’s Home. (c) Danny Marroquin All rights reserved. Please contact Danny through the emailz.

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