3 May 2011
| Phil Ek, Fleet Foxes|
| May 3, 2011 (2011-05-03)|
2009–2010 in Reciprocal Recording, Dreamland Recording, Bear Creek Recording & Avast Recording
Grammy Award for Best Folk Album
Folk music, Folk rock, Indie folk
Bon Iver - Bon Iver, The Whole Love, The Harrow & The Harv, Let England Shake, For Emma - Forever Ago
Helplessness Blues is the second studio album by Seattle, Washington-based folk band Fleet Foxes. It was released on May 3, 2011 as a follow-up to their eponymous 2008 Fleet Foxes album. Upon release, the album received universal acclaim from critics and was nominated for Best Folk Album for the 54th Grammy Awards. The release peaked at number 4 on the Billboard 200, the band's highest position on the chart to date. To support the album, the band embarked on a worldwide Helplessness Blues Tour.
Helplessness Blues is the band's first studio album to feature bass guitarist Christian Wargo and multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson. It is also the band's only album to feature drummer and backing vocalist Joshua Tillman, who departed from the band in 2012 to pursue his solo career under the name Father John Misty.
Initially, Robin Pecknold had stated that he would have liked the album to be released in 2009; however, the band's touring schedule had caused them some setbacks. They got together to rehearse new songs in February 2009 in a rented house outside Seattle, but the sessions were mostly scrapped. As a result of those wasted sessions, the band lost $60,000 of their own money. After their tour in support of the 2008 releases ended, the band's singer-songwriter mentioned the possibility of starting to record new songs, but Joshua Tillman, Fleet Foxes' drummer and co-song arranger, was scheduled to play Europe and North America all along the 2009-10 winter as part of his solo musical act. Added to this, Phil Ek, the band's producer and friend answered in an interview that he was likely to continue as the producer as Robin had already sent him some demos to start listening to. In an interview with Pitchfork Media, Pecknold stated he expected the album to be released sometime in the second half of 2010. In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Pecknold admitted that his girlfriend of five years found the stress this album placed on their relationship too much, and ended things. Upon hearing the completed album, she realized that Pecknold's efforts were worth it, and they tried to work it out. The couple has since split up.
Pecknold has come out saying for their second album he tried to sound "less poppy, less upbeat and more groove-based". Taking inspiration from Roy Harper's folk album Stormcock, or at least its 12-string guitar he said: "That will be the primary sonic distancing from the last record". Added to this, he stated they wanted to record very quickly, saying he wanted to do the "vocal takes in one go, so even if there are fuck-ups, I want them to be on there. I want there to be guitar mistakes. I want there to be not totally flawless vocals. I want to record it and have that kind of cohesive sound. Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, to me, is the best-sounding album because it sounds like there were only six hours in the universe for that album to be recorded in. So I want it to have that feeling."
The band had recorded since April 2010 in different locations (including West Hurley, New York) after two years of writing material and decided to scrap the earlier idea of a fast recording (though according to the band, the vocal takes so far have all been done in one take, perhaps in line with the original imperfect recording idea).
The album cover was illustrated by a Seattle artist Toby Liebowitz and painted by artist Christopher Anderson. The title track, "Helplessness Blues" was released via free download on January 31, 2011, and the album's fourth track, "Battery Kinzie" premiered on Zane Lowe's show on March 22, 2011. Their record label, Sub Pop, also released a downloadable music video made up of recording and other miscellaneous footage set to Fleet Foxes' song "Grown Ocean" on its site in support of the album. Additionally, the band released a 12" double A-side single of the title track backed with "Grown Ocean" for Record Store Day on April 16, 2011.
On November 1, 2011, Sean Pecknold released the official music video for "The Shrine / An Argument", which can be viewed on Sub Pop's YouTube account and Sean Pecknold's Vimeo account.
Helplessness Blues received widespread critical acclaim from contemporary music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 85 based on 42 reviews, which indicates "universal acclaim". Larry Fitzmaurice of Pitchfork Media wrote that the album's "analytical and inquisitive nature never tips into self-indulgence" and that "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." Chris Martins of The A.V. Club praised the album's "sophisticated, truth-seeking songs", while Alexis Petridis of The Guardian called it "almost laughably beautiful." Andy Gill, writing in The Independent, felt that Fleet Foxes "manage to make giant strides creatively without jettisoning their core sound." Robert Christgau, who was dismissive of the band's previous releases, gave the album a one-star honorable mention, indicating "a worthy effort consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well like," and declared it "darker and more socially conscious than either their escapist admirers or their ideological detractors are equipped to notice."
The album was nominated for Best Folk Album for the 54th Grammy Awards.
All tracks written by Robin Pecknold.Fleet Foxes
Robin Pecknold – vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, piano, fiddle, mandolin, hammer dulcimer, harmonium, Moog, lever harp, Prophet
Skyler Skjelset – acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, water harp
Casey Wescott – piano, pump organ, Marxophone, music box, Crumar bass, Moog, Tremoloa, tibetan singing bowls, harmonium, harpsichord, Mellotron, additional vocal harmony arrangements
J. Tillman – vocals, drum kit, percussion
Christian Wargo – vocals, electric bass
Morgan Henderson – double bass, woodwinds
Alina To – violin on "Bedouin Dress" and "The Shrine/An Argument"
Bill Patton – pedal and lap steel on "Grown Ocean"
Hanna Benn – string arrangements on "Bedouin Dress"
Phil Ek – production, engineering, mixing
Greg Calbi – mastering
1Montezuma3:37Helplessness Blues Wikipedia
3Sim Sala Bim3:14