Music Monday: Fleet Foxes Get the Blues

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Fleet Foxes

Because I write about music for TIME, I frequently receive advance copies of albums from artists who hope that I might review their work. This sounds much cooler than it really is because most of the things I get have titles like 105 Banjo Lullabies or Man With Tuba Covers Songs by REO Speedwagon. But sometimes I get lucky. I can’t tell you how happy I was the other week when I found Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues waiting for me in my mailbox.

Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut came out in 2008 and was a surprisingly huge hit. It has taken the Seattle band three years to release a follow-up, but I think that’s a good thing. Instead of rushing to capitalize on their newfound success, Fleet Foxes took their time crafting, arranging and mixing each song on Helplessness. They traveled to upstate New York and even recorded some songs in an underground pit (to get the acoustics just right, I’m told).

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Helplessness Blues finds Fleet Foxes retaining much of the harmonic, folksy sound that made their first album so popular.  My favorite track so far, “Sim Sala Bim,” is a 3-minute send up that sounds like long lost Simon & Garfunkel song. It ends with a powerfully finger-picked acoustic guitar that sounds so beautiful and infectious that I’ve been playing it over and over all morning.

The band uses so many instruments on this album that it’s hard to keep track.  There’s a violin, a harp—even something called a marxophone that is sort of like three instruments (mandolin, guitar and zither) combined into one. Helplessness Blues is not the type of album you listen to absentmindedly. No, this record is intended to be cherished. It’s the kind of music you play on a lazy summer evening when you have nothing to do but stare out the window and watch the rain.

Helplessness Blues doesn’t come out until May 3, but the nice folks over at NPR are streaming the entire album this week.

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