Like Jethro Tull 30 plus years ago, Fleet Foxes are steadfast in honing its craft, ignoring recent trends and forging ahead in the pursuit and adaptation of classic influences. When the Seattle-based pastoral minstrels surfaced in 2007, the only trendy aspect of the band was its use of an animal in its name (Panda Bear, Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective were all taking major strides in their respective indie popularity). Four years, a few side projects and international tours later, the Foxes are back, sounding very much themselves on this outstanding record.
Because of the blogosphere and the fleeting (haha) nature of “sounds”, music is often judged by how groundbreaking it comes across as. Fleet Foxes was fairly revolutionary at its start, but its sound was recognizably English and folky and hymnal-y. Helplessness Blues does not stray from that sound, though the sprawling “The Shrine / An Argument” has a few surprises. For the most part, it showcases the tightness of the band and the expansion of the groups signature harmonies and Jethro-esque progressions.
In interviews, lead singer Robin Pecknold has stressed the time and effort that went into the editing and mixing process, and it is apparent in every nook and cranny of this album. While folky mainstays Sufjan Stevens and Iron & Wine wandered (with great success) into the realms of beat-heavy, electronic music, Fleet Foxes stay in familiar wooded pastures, and that may just make them the greatest folk-rockers in the world right now.