5 Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Best opening line of the year: "So now I am older than my mother and father when they had their daughter, now what does that say about me?"

There is a lot of wisdom in Robin Pecknold's lyrics on Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes' sophomore effort. The first few tracks declare a mindset of a serious grown up, instead of a wistful-hearted youngster. It probably was tough to start writing a follow-up to 2008's self-titled debut, but the end result is nothing short of spectacular. The vocal harmonies are well defined and sung with increased purpose. The instruments shine and fade with ease and cradle Robin's lead perfectly on every song.

If I could mention on this half-way point, this was a serious year for music. All these bands seemingly decided to buckle down and make bold albums, and Helplessness Blues is no exception. The songs have unexpected moments, go where you don't think they will, or change on a dime. It's not as predictable as the first record. The best moments happen as the music fades, and the three (and sometimes four!) part harmonies are left to stand on their own. The instruments can go from delicate to thunderous, as on "The Plains/Bitter Dancer," but the vocals are the star.

Many tracks start out on the sleepy side, so it's kind of an album for a quiet night. However, there's a lot of depth here, particularly on the vinyl version. I don't think that an album has to be loud to be great, but I do think it presents a bigger challenge to the band to keep it interesting. The Fleet Foxes do that better than anyone else right now. On a side note, their performance at the Pageant this year was one of the best I've seen, they energized this record with ease, and left me grinning.

Download: "Montezuma" - "Battery Kinzie" - "Helplessness Blues" - "The Shrine/An Argument"