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
Genre Indie folk[1]
Length 49:57
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. Released on May 3, 2011 as the follow-up to their self-titled debut album,[2][3] Helplessness Blues received universal acclaim from critics and was nominated for Best Folk Album for the 54th Grammy Awards.[4] The release peaked at number 4 on the Billboard 200, the band's highest position on the chart to date.[5] 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 Josh Tillman, who left the band in 2012 to pursue his solo career under the name Father John Misty.[6]


Initially, Robin Pecknold had stated that he would have liked 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 Josh 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.[7] The couple has since split up.[8]

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."[9]

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.[10] 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.[11]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
AllMusic4/5 stars[13]
The A.V. ClubA[14]
Entertainment WeeklyB−[1]
The Guardian4/5 stars[15]
The Independent5/5 stars[16]
Los Angeles Times3.5/4 stars[17]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[20]

Helplessness Blues received widespread critical acclaim from contemporary music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 85 based on 42 reviews, which indicates "universal acclaim".[12] Larry Fitzmaurice of Pitchfork wrote that the album's "analytical and inquisitive nature never tips into self-indulgence" and that "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."[19] Chris Martins of The A.V. Club praised the album's "sophisticated, truth-seeking songs",[14] while Alexis Petridis of The Guardian called it "almost laughably beautiful."[15] Andy Gill, writing in The Independent, felt that Fleet Foxes "manage to make giant strides creatively without jettisoning their core sound."[16] 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."[22]

The album was nominated for Best Folk Album for the 54th Grammy Awards.[4]


Publication Accolade Year Rank
Consequence of Sound Top 50 Albums of 2011 2011
The Guardian The Best Albums of 2011 2011
Paste The 50 Best Albums of 2011 2011
Pitchfork The Top 50 Albums of 2011 2011
PopMatters The 75 Best Albums of 2011 2011
Rolling Stone 50 Best Albums of 2011 2011
Spin The 50 Best Albums of 2011 2011
Stereogum Top 50 Albums of 2011 2011
Uncut The Top 50 Albums of 2011 2011

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Robin Pecknold.

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
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
Total length:49:57


Fleet Foxes
Additional instrumental personnel
Production personnel
  • Phil Ek – production, engineering, mixing
  • Greg Calbi – mastering


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[32] Gold 164,918[33]

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


  1. ^ a b Greenwald, Andy (April 27, 2011). "Helplessness Blues". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  2. ^ "Fleet Foxes / Helplessness Blues - SP888". Sub Pop Records.
  3. ^ Meatto, Keith (2011-04-26). "Fleeter Foxes – A Review of Helplessness Blues". Frontier Psychiatrist.
  4. ^ a b "Nominees And Winners". The Recording Academy. Archived from the original on 1 February 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
  5. ^ "Fleet Foxes". allmusic. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Breihan, Tom (2009-12-03). "Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold Talks Next Album, Side Projects, Creative Struggle". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
  8. ^ "Robin Pecknold — Olivia, In A Separate Bed". All Things Go. All Things Go, LLC. Retrieved 28 August 2012.
  9. ^ Michaels, Sean (2009-12-07). "Fleet Foxes Recording 'Pretty Boring' Second Album". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2009-05-22.
  10. ^ Alissa (2011-01-31). "Fleet Foxes Announce Second Album, Helplessness Blues, Pre-Order Now". Sub Pop Records. Archived from the original on 2013-01-15.
  11. ^ Murray, Robin (2011-10-25). "Watch: Fleet Foxes - The Shrine / An Argument". Clash Music. Retrieved 2011-10-25.
  12. ^ a b "Reviews for Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes". Metacritic. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  13. ^ Leahey, Andrew. "Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes". AllMusic. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  14. ^ a b Martins, Chris (May 3, 2011). "Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues". The A.V. Club. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  15. ^ a b Petridis, Alexis (April 21, 2011). "Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues – review". The Guardian. London. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  16. ^ a b Gill, Andy (April 22, 2012). "Album: Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (Bella Union)". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on January 4, 2012. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  17. ^ Wappler, Margaret (May 3, 2011). "Album review: Fleet Foxes' 'Helplessness Blues'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  18. ^ Haynes, Gavin (April 27, 2011). "Album Review: Fleet Foxes – 'Helplessness Blues'". NME. Archived from the original on March 6, 2016. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  19. ^ a b Fitzmaurice, Larry (May 2, 2011). "Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues". Pitchfork. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  20. ^ Fricke, David (April 28, 2011). "Helplessness Blues". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  21. ^ Petrusich, Amanda (May 3, 2011). "Fleet Foxes, 'Helplessness Blues' (Sub Pop)". Spin. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  22. ^ Christgau, Robert (January 20, 2012). "Odds and Ends 005". MSN Music. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  23. ^ "Top 50 Albums of 2011". Consequence of Sound. December 16, 2011. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
  24. ^ "The Best Albums of 2011". The Guardian. December 1, 2011. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
  25. ^ "The 50 Best Albums of 2011". Paste. November 29, 2011. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
  26. ^ "The Top 50 Albums of 2011". Pitchfork. December 14, 2011. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
  27. ^ "The 75 Best Albums of 2011". PopMatters. December 26, 2011. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
  28. ^ "50 Best Albums of 2011". Rolling Stone. December 7, 2011. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
  29. ^ "The 50 Best Albums of 2011". Spin. December 12, 2011. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
  30. ^ "Top 50 Albums of 2011". Stereogum. December 5, 2011. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
  31. ^ "The Top 50 Albums of 2011". Uncut. January 10, 2013. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
  32. ^ "British album certifications – Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues". British Phonographic Industry. Select albums in the Format field. Select Gold in the Certification field. Type Helplessness Blues in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  33. ^ "Official Charts Analysis: Royal Blood score second chart-topper". Music Week. 23 June 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2018.

External links[edit]