Helplessness Blues

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Helplessness Blues
FleetFoxesHelplessness Blues2011.jpg
Studio album by Fleet Foxes
Released May 3, 2011 (2011-05-03)
Recorded 2009-2010 in Reciprocal Recording, Dreamland Recording, Bear Creek Recording & Avast Recording
Length 49:57
Label Sub Pop, Bella Union
Producer Phil Ek, Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes chronology
Fleet Foxes
Helplessness Blues
Singles from Helplessness Blues
  1. "Helplessness Blues"
    Released: 2011
  2. "Grown Ocean"
    Released: 2011
  3. "The Shrine / An Argument"
    Released: 2011

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.[1][2] Upon release, the album received universal acclaim from critics and was nominated for Best Folk Album for the 54th Grammy Awards.[3] The release peaked at number 4 on the Billboard 200, the band's highest position on the chart to date.[4] 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.[5]


Initially, Robin Pecknold had stated he would like 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.[6] The couple has since split up.[7]

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."[8]

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.[9] 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.[10]


Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 85/100[11]
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars [12]
The Guardian 4/5 stars [13]
The Independent 5/5 stars [14]
Mojo 5/5 stars [11]
musicOMH 4.5/5 stars[15]
Pitchfork Media (8.8/10.0) [16]
Robert Christgau (1-star Honorable Mention)[17]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars [18]
Slant Magazine 4.5/5 stars[19]
Spin 9/10 stars[20]

The album has received critical acclaim upon its release, and it has an average score of 85 on the review aggregate site Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim."[11]

Andy Gill of The Independent gave the album five out of five stars, and states the "group manage to make giant strides creatively without jettisoning their core sound."[14] The Guardian was positive about the album, calling it "almost laughably beautiful." Larry Fitzmaurice of Pitchfork Media states the album's "analytical and inquisitive nature never tips into self-indulgence. 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."[16] Chris Martins of The A.V. Club states "it's sophisticated, truth-seeking songs like these that make Helplessness Blues feel as timeless and immortal as that man on the screen."[21] 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."[17]

The album was nominated for Best Folk Album for the 54th Grammy Awards.[3]

Accolades and awards[edit]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Robin Pecknold

No. Title Length
1. "Montezuma"   3:37
2. "Bedouin Dress"   4:30
3. "Sim Sala Bim"   3:14
4. "Battery Kinzie"   2:49
5. "The Plains/Bitter Dancer"   5:54
6. "Helplessness Blues"   5:03
7. "The Cascades"   2:08
8. "Lorelai"   4:25
9. "Someone You'd Admire"   2:29
10. "The Shrine/An Argument"   8:07
11. "Blue Spotted Tail"   3:05
12. "Grown Ocean"   4:36


  • Phil Ek: Producer, engineer, mixing
  • Greg Calbi: mastering


Region Certification Sales/shipments
United Kingdom (BPI)[32] Gold 100,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
xunspecified figures based on certification alone


  1. ^ "Fleet Foxes / Helplessness Blues - SP888". Sub Pop Records. 
  2. ^ Meatto, Keith (2011-04-26). "Fleeter Foxes – A Review of Helplessness Blues". Frontier Psychiatrist. 
  3. ^ a b "Nominees And Winners". The Recording Academy. Retrieved 6 December 2011. 
  4. ^ "Fleet Foxes". allmusic. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Breihan, Tom (2009-12-03). "Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold Talks Next Album, Side Projects, Creative Struggle". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2009-12-04. 
  7. ^ "Robin Pecknold — Olivia, In A Separate Bed". All Things Go. All Things Go, LLC. Retrieved 28 August 2012. 
  8. ^ Michaels, Sean (2009-12-07). "Fleet Foxes Recording 'Pretty Boring' Second Album". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2009-05-22. 
  9. ^ Alissa (2011-01-31). "Fleet Foxes Announce Second Album, Helplessness Bblues, Pre-Order Now". Sub Pop Records. 
  10. ^ Murray, Robin (2011-10-25). "Watch: Fleet Foxes - The Shrine / An Argument". Clash Music. Retrieved 2011-10-25. 
  11. ^ a b c "Helplessness Blues". Metacritic. 
  12. ^ Leahey, Andrew. "Helplessness Blues - Fleet Foxes". Allmusic. 
  13. ^ Petridis, Alexis (2011-04-21). "Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues – review". The Guardian (London). 
  14. ^ a b Gill, Andy (2011-04-22). "Album: Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (Bella Union)". The Independent (London). 
  15. ^ Jowett, Tom. "Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues". Music OMH. 
  16. ^ a b Fitzmaurice, Larry (2011-05-02). "Album Review: Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues". Pitchfork Media. 
  17. ^ a b Christgau, Robert. "Fleet Foxes". Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  18. ^ Fricke, David (2011-04-28). "Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes". Rolling Stone Music. Rolling Stone. 
  19. ^ Liedel, Kevin (2011-04-26). "Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues". Music: Album Review. Slant Magazine. 
  20. ^ Petrusich, Amanda. "Fleet Foxes, 'Helplessness Blues' (Sub Pop)". Reviews. 
  21. ^ Chris Martins (2011-05-03). "Helplessness Blues". The A.V. Club. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ Maerz, Melissa (2011-12-26). "10 Best Albums of 2011". Entertainment Weekly. 
  24. ^ "MOJO‘s Top 50 Albums Of 2011". Stereogum. December 2, 2011. Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  25. ^ Rolling Stone Magazine. "50 Best Albums of 2011". Rolling Stone Magazine. Retrieved 21 December 2011. 
  26. ^ "Top 50 Albums of 2011". 16 December 2011.  External link in |work= (help)
  27. ^ Amanda Petrusich. "Staff Lists: The Top 50 Albums of 2011". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 16 December 2011. 
  28. ^ Diver, Mike (1 December 2011). "BBC Music Writers' Top 25 Albums of 2011".  External link in |work= (help)
  29. ^ "The Guardian's Best Albums of 2011".  External link in |work= (help)
  30. ^ "SPIN's 50 Best Albums of 2011". Spin. Retrieved 20 December 2011. 
  31. ^ "musicOMH's Top Albums of 2011".  External link in |work= (help)
  32. ^ "British album certifications – Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues". British Phonographic Industry.  Enter Helplessness Blues in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Select Gold in the field By Award. Click Search

External links[edit]