Release Date: 3 May 2011
Fleet Foxes' unpretentious, crowd-pleasing directness was the key to their rapid rise. Their Sun Giant EP and self-titled debut LP, both released in 2008, brimmed with inviting melodies, evocative lyrics, and open-armed harmonizing that seemed designed to reach a wide variety of listeners. Their bright folk-rock sound wasn't exactly "cool," but that was sort of the point-- it's familiar in the most pleasing way, lacking conceit or affectation. Their expression of their love for music (and making music) was refreshing three years ago, and that sort of thing never gets old.
But clouds inevitably roll in. On the band's follow-up, Helplessness Blues, the mood is darker and more uncertain, adding shade to their gold-hued sound. The change in tone reflects the tumultuous road Fleet Foxes traveled during the album's creation. In late 2009, Fleet Foxes had an album's worth of songs ready, but the tracks were mostly scrapped before mixing. The arduous creative process took a toll on the group members, particularly singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold, who told Pitchfork at the time, "The last year has been a really trying creative process where I've not been knowing what to write or how to write."
Helplessness Blues' analytical and inquisitive nature never tips into self-indulgence. Amidst the chaos, the record showcases the band's expanded range and successful risk-taking, while retaining what so many people fell in love with about the group in the first place. And once again, a strong sense of empathy is at the heart of what makes Fleet Foxes special. Much has been made of American indie's recent obsession with nostalgic escapism, but Robin Pecknold doesn't retreat. He confronts uncertainty while feeling out his own place in the world, which is something a lot of us can relate to.
- Larry Fitzmaurice, Pitchfork (2011)