Altuesdays: Fleet Foxes “Helplessness Blues” is the what folk music was meant to be

Altuesdays: Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues is the what folk music was meant to be

Sophia Fowler '22, Multimedia Manager

Fleet Foxes has found themselves deep-rooted in indie folk and folk alternative. Regardless of your personal taste in music, Fleet Foxes has managed to truly hold captive every facet needed for indie and folk music. From sound, to lyricism, to vocals and every hidden corner of their sound, Fleet Foxes and their sophomore album, Helplessness Blues, manages to staple together the calm and pleasant sound of folk music with a unique sound owned by the band.
The album opens up with “Montezuma”, a truly opener track that can only be described as a simply grand introduction to an album with a folklore-type story line followed far more through sounds and lyrics than most other albums in comparison. In all truth, there isn’t much special about “Montezuma”, aside from its importance of being the opening track, and constructed in such a way that it creates an introduction of dreams and hopes to be set throughout the album.
The second track is “Bedouin Dress”, with a slight western feel to it, it’s an upbeat, lighthearted track that could easily be chanted by a campfire in the middle of the desert. The instrumental of the songs on top of the imagery-led lyricism backed by an instrumental backing that has a story of its own. In all truth, this song led me on an incredibly layered journey throughout the mixture of a literal dress being described, and a far more metaphorical story being told through instruments and not a literal, spoken tale.
“Sim Sala Bim” is a melancholy track that reaches deeper into acoustic roots, letting lyricism really seep through with a haunting chorus. The lyrics of this song are incredibly poetic, to a point where you almost have to read them without the chorus to entertain any further meaning. The final wrap of the song surrounds a solely instrumental, upbeat story being told that is in great contrast to the first minute and a half or so of the track.
The fifth track, “The Plains/Bitter Dancer” again reflects on a consistency seen previously on this album, a battle between an upbeat, western type track to the bitter melancholy feelings spread throughout others. This song is truly a mix of both, opening up with a far more upbeat instrumental, the middle again reflecting back to the melancholy feelings, and finishing up with possibly the most pressured and fast track yet on the album. While the lyrics of this song, to me, may not mean as much as the instrumental, the true importance of this song is found within its relevance and placement to the rest of the album.
The title track, “Helplessness Blues”, is much more focused on the lyricism even compared to the instrumentals, which prior to this track, have been shared together. In all truth, the lyrics to the title track are incredibly important to understanding the entire album and it’s core belief of questioning the way society, nature, and everything around us functions and why. If every song falls under the category of “helplessness blues”, then the entire album’s legitimacy as to its impact is questionable at best, which helps the listener dive deeper into the actual weight each song holds in meaning, and begins to force forms of questioning.
Skipping to track eight, “Lorelai”, this song definitely breaks heavily away from the blues sound that has been heavily weighted on this album, and in turn, focuses on the more indie sounds on this album. In complete truth, this song sounds like a slow Vampire Weekend or Cage the Elephant sound, with a couple more folk influences mixed in. Personally, there’s not much special about this song, other than the newer sound being heard on it, making it a good song at best.
“Someone You’d Admire” is the next track, and I can’t help but question why. Being completely truthful, this track is far too slow and folk to come immediately after “Lorelai”, and is also the first time I will call almost any song on this album too simple. Seeing what the band can do prior to this song sets this track to be a disappointment, being blunt. The lyrics here are too poetic to be thrown into such a short song, and it almost seems like an extra, just thrown on track compared to a well composed song.
“The Shrine/An Argument” is truly mediocre in the first half, only becoming something new, and fresh, and oddly confusing while still providing some clarity in the second half. Up and until the upbeat sections of the track, there’s nothing special to it. Once the upbeat instrumentals hit the song becomes at least enjoyable, but it’s not until the last minute and a half where clashing instruments and no vocals to contextualize what is happening actually becomes interesting. In all truth, the confusion and anxiety-filled factions of this song is what keeps it afloat, and makes it an interesting enough track to almost describe it as a slightly new sound, while still maintaining the relatively similar sound of the rest of the album.
“Blue Spotted Tail” is a healthy mixture of “Someone You’d Admire” and “Helplessness Blues”. It continues to question the legitimacy of just living, how much of what we do actually matters, and if what we believe is true. The instrumental here is more of a backtrack for a monologue, a deeper story being told through various vocal lines and complementing hums. This song’s weight comes easily from the lyrics, and without them would be more irrelevant and arguably a scrapped song on the album.
The final track, “Grown Ocean”, is the perfect example of what a final track should be. This was probably my favorite song on the album, being the perfect balance between an experimental new indie folk sound, still deep lyricism following the overall themes of the album, and is more upbeat, leaving the melancholy themes behind, and providing a sense of closure for listeners, which is much needed after such a bipolar, swinging record.
Overall, Helplessness Blues can be described as a revolutionary concept album. While the instrumentals are great and remain true to the sound of Fleet Foxes, the lyricism is the definition of poetic, with almost no literal meaning, leaving listeners grabbing at deeper meanings given to them. Helplessness Blues is not just an essential album in the discography of Fleet Foxes, but in the indie folk genre.