New Music: Fleet Foxes – ‘Helplessness Blues’

Fleet Foxes
Photo by David Greenwald

If you’ve been following Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold on Twitter, you may have noticed the 20-something going through some pretty serious early-adulthood existential crises since the band’s debut album. In “Helplessness Blues,” his tongue nowhere near his cheek, he does what artists do best: turn his worldly grappling into a tremendous song. It goes almost without saying that the music is flat-out gorgeous, the band harmonizing like a chorus of bearded cherubs over a yearning, Dylanesque melody as acoustic guitars rumble forward. At this point, Fleet Foxes could sing the phone book (or your Google Contacts) and it’d be the song of the year, but, as we know, Pecknold has other issues on his mind.

“I was raised up believing I was somehow unique,” he sings, addressing an issue applicable to anyone who grew up in the self-esteem-in-schools era (do they still have that?) — but unlike many in his entitled age group, he realizes his own smallness. “Instead, I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me,” he continues. But what would be worthy? “I don’t know what that would be / I’ll get back to you someday soon, you will see.” As the song breaks into its second-act outro, Pecknold considers the plain reward of a day’s work, the kind of sentiment toward a simpler time that drives Bella Union labelmates Midlake’s music, as well: “If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m sore.” But he does not. Instead, he has his guitar, his voice and his band. So do we. That’ll have to be enough for now.

Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues”: mp3

(Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues is due on May 3 on Sub Pop/Bella Union)