The second record is always a bitch (see: Interpol, Bloc Party, etc.). So as the scrapped sessions, shifting studio locations, and delayed release dates marked the follow-up to Seattle’s Fleet Foxes’ universally adored 2008 debut full-length, the writing certainly seemed to be on the wall. And yet, there is Helplessness Blues, a record so effortlessly tuneful and assured it makes you wonder how anyone could have doubted they could pull this off again. The bouncy, fiddle-led “Bedouin Dress,” the elaborate, beautifully layered “The Plains/Bitter Dancer,” and the irresistibly melodic title track all point to a band at peak power. And while the features that endeared the Foxes on their debut — soaring multi-part harmonies, quirky songwriting — are still fully intact here, they’ve managed to throw some new things into the pot. Most notable is “The Shrine/An Argument,” which morphs from standard folk to free-jazz freak out over eight minutes. Confident, consistent, and hugely enjoyable, Helplessness more than anything proves that the Foxes should have a lot more brilliant music left in them. So much for the sophomore slump.
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