|In “Montezuma,” the opening song of Fleet Foxes’ sophomore LP, Helplessness Blues, lead singer Robin Pecknold sings, “I’m older than my mother and father/When they had their daughter/Now what does that say about me?” With this line, Pecknold casts aside much of the Renaissance-fair fodder that populated the band’s debut, and becomes the spokesman for a generation of “wild-eyed walkers,” searching for meaning in the coals of last night’s fire pits.|
These 20-something dilemmas (a possible alternate title) reappear in many of the record’s standouts, like the title track. To the backdrop of an acoustic guitar stampede, Pecknold and company deliver a full-throated essay on finding one’s place in the world. They stop on a dime for a panoramic bridge, filled with glowing orchards and long locks of golden-blonde hair—and, of course, a beard or two. The bridge unfurls reverberated hammer dulcimer, twangy Telecaster licks, and rattling tambourines, ending with Pecknold obliquely singing, “Someday I’ll be like the man on the screen.”
Everything fans loved about the first record is here. You want complex vocal harmonies? You got ’em. Lightly fingerpicked acoustic guitar? Yep. You want a viola? You got a viola. But Helplessness Blues also broadens the band’s sonic pallet, as with “The Shrine/An Argument.” Blasts of distorted guitar fuzz swell with a chorus of tenor voices in the transition between “Shrine” and “Argument,” the song culminating in frenzied duck calls between a clarinet and a bassoon. Pecknold’s crystalline tenor even distorts, possibly for the first time on record, in the song’s opening chorus.
Recent critical acclaim for Helplessness Blues has labeled it “darker,” but what the album does so successfully is spike the bucolic daydream that their debut produced with a shot of world-weariness and pathos. Like their debut, it may get lodged in your record player. Beware.