Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues

All too often a critically acclaimed, platinum selling debut album deviously entices its creators into an overly ambitious follow-up that despite consuming a far greater budget and timeframe falls somewhat short of its predecessor.

Fleet Foxes’ much anticipated second album is indeed more ambitious than its critically acclaimed, platinum selling predecessor. It has, no doubt, been completed on a far greater budget, and although finally recorded relatively quickly, nonetheless had a generous gestation period. This begs the inevitable question, have Fleet Foxes managed to retain the captivating charm of their debut masterpiece in the midst of the inevitable distractions enabled by its ensuing commercial success?

Montezuma opens the new album and picks up pretty much where the band left off in 2008, cautiously adhering to their proven formula of ornate choral harmonies overlaying tranquil acoustic folk. Bedouin Dress adds some richer flavours to the established recipe with a middle-eastern infused fiddle and subtle mandolin undertones.

The title track itself showcases the stylishly matured lyrics that, when taken across the whole album, invoke the mystical that so neatly accompanies the bands persona and melodies, yet astutely manages to retain an incredulous sense of veracity and non-deluded awe.

The Cascades occupies the centre of the album and provides a short instrumental interlude with intricate layered guitars reminiscent of a Mike Oldfield segue.

The Shrine / An Argument at just over eight minutes is a mini epic that kicks off with the familiar acoustic picking and Robin Pecknold’s sumptuous vocals that so enthralled on the inaugural album. The six piece outfit build up a head of steam in the middle section before the stage is cleared to allow Robin to get overly precious about his green apples. Scrumping presumably deterred, the piece breaks into a free jazz cacophony invoking the recently departed spirit of Beefheart before gently winding down with the assistance of some honeyed strings.

So all in all in seems as though Fleet Foxes have pulled off the tricky task of following up on their initial success by appropriately employing the natural process of evolution. But its gradualism, not punctuated equilibrium that has set up a sumptuous second success that should bring beardy weirdy baroque pop back to its highest level of credibility since its sixties heyday.