Fleet Foxes released their self-titled first full length album three years ago (2008! where did time go!). It was a frequent companion of mine on scenic drives and road trips, and their medieval jam-band sound made a perfect soundtrack to summertime adventures. I saw them live at the Fox Theater in 2009, and was incredibly impressed by their beautiful harmonies and tight arrangements.
Their new album Helplessness Blues is no sonic departure, but it does seem like lead singer Robin Pecknold has grown up. The themes are more grounded, less about the mythic pastoral past and more about everyday, modern struggles. “Montezuma”, the first first song on the album opens, “Now I am older / Than my mother and father / When they had their daughter / Now what does that say about me?” Even as the song goes on to reference empresses and dragons, I can recognize a quarter-life crisis from 2 paces away.
Later, on “Helplessness Blues,” he goes on to mourn, “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique/ Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see / And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be / A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.” Are you going to opt out of the bigger grind? Downsize and find a space you can be master of? More questions I certainly don’t have the answer to, but Pecknold wonders beautifully.
Despite the band’s lyric earthiness, the music itself embraces the ethereal. The arrangements are very complex but are made pure and simple soaring lead that recall medieval choirs (which I can’t, but can certainly imagine). What they have accomplished on this album is so precise, but flows so easily that you’re never aware they must be working really, really hard.
Mad did a great review after seeing them at the Fox Theater in Oakland.