Mismatched glassy eyeballs stare out at us over a collage of pale orange and forest green haberdashery. A tiny propeller plane nose-dives into a jagged mountain range, hunters armed with high-powered rifles poke out from behind the hills, and an anthropomorphic black cat curls around a set of concentric orbs. There’s a hand offering up rubies and emeralds as if worthless chunk of rock, as Van Gogh looks off into the distance, the lines of his face saturated with worry and turmoil. Crowning this amalgam of bizarre fragments, white capital lettering against a thin black horizontal stripe reads: Fleet Foxes. Anchoring these images, in identical typeface, is the title of their sophomore LP: Helplessness Blues.
Under the umbrella of Sub Pop Records, Fleet Foxes’ 2008 self-titled debut sold over a quarter million copies, so it’s no surprise the tandem is back together for Helplessness Blues. Sub Pop, after adding Seattle neophytes The Head and The Heart to their catalog of stalwarts that includes The Shins and Blitzen Trapper, arguably touts the tightest, most distinctive bands in the Pacific Northwest. Now that’s sayin’ something!
Opening track “Montezuma” features guitarist Skyler Skjelset’s tender finger picking, as hirsute singer Robin Pecknold strips away the illusions of social status to reveal a cyclical truth: “in dearth or in excess / both the slave and the empress / will return to the dirt, I guess / naked as when they came.” Pecknold carols in contemplative reflection: “oh man what I used to be / oh man oh my oh me.”
The snare drum rim clicks of drummer Josh Tillman kick off “Bedouin Dress,” with squeaky violins ushering an uneasy, eerie vibe. On “Sim Sala Bim,” Pecknold whispers that new beginnings sometimes demand surreptitious escapes: “lighting a match on the suitcase’s latch in the fading of night.” As the song builds, mandolin and tambourine shower lyrics depicting the mysteries of love: “what makes me love you despite the reservations? / what do I see in your eyes / besides my reflection hanging high?”
On title track “Helplessness Blues,” Pecknold searches for meaning in labor and life. Aching to shed the alienation of unique individuality for the simple, populist spirituality of agrarian toil, he echoes with ravenous longing for a bucolic countryside, : “If I had an orchard, I’d work ’till I’m raw!” Amidst melting, golden harmonies, Pecknold sings of pristine, fundamental beauty in this tremendously naturalistic tune.
Throughout the LP, Feet Foxes usher a sense of rustic placidity through eclectic instrumentation and soothing vocals.