Soundbites: Fleet Foxes sophomore attempt is cinematic


Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues begins epically and softly with Robin Pecknolds antique clarinet voice: So now I am older / than my mother and father / when they had their daughter / Now what does that say about me? 
Were all about three years older than we were when we first heard Fleet Foxes self-titled debut LP, an album of haunting folk tracks seemingly out of Appalachia, but actually from Seattle. Laced with songs about meadowlarks, mountains and forests, Fleet Foxes enchanted us with instantly memorable harmonies whirling around light acoustics. 
People like to call it Baroque pop in a nod to Fleet Foxes classical backbone. That means churchy folk. But Pecknold may owe the devil for the sound his voice makes a concoction of Neil Young, Paul Simon and Jim James.
His bands second album, Helplessness Blues is more about the panorama than individual scenes. Instrumentals are more complex this time around the sextet uses Tibetan singing bowls to name one novelty and tempo changes within songs (Sim Sala Bim) and between songs to educe a cinematic, rather than parsed, experience.
Part of that experience are unassuming and forgettable  songs (Blue Spotted Tail). But there are also several unassuming yet memorable tracks, like The Plains / Bitter Dancer. 
This album is a deliberately self-effacing, a project of a humble band whose simple sound belies their complexity.
Perhaps the most important thing Fleet Foxes does on Helplessness Blues is the same thing they did with their debut: sound pretty, like a gold-plated harp. Six greasy looking dudes from the Pacific Northwest pull that off on Lorelai and Battery Kinzie. Go figure.
Helplessness Blues is more introspective and less nature-driven in its lyrics than their debut and more entertaining. Pecknlike refers to himself as trash on the sidewalk,” rhyming that with sweet talk. But he stays true to his lexicon when crooning about being buried with a womens dowry on Montezuma. And he seems to have an identity crisis in the title track, Helplesness Blues”: Hed like to be a functioning cog in some great machinery, serving something beyond me.
If theres one complaint about this record, its that a few songs are too modest for memory. At the same time, they sacrifice individual greatness to round out an exceptional second attempt from Fleet Foxes. Well call those tracks functioning cogs.