Just Cause It Sounds Old, Doesn't Mean It Can't Be Original

Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Can a band be true to and even emulate it's musical idols yet not be derivative? Most pop music is a reflection of the music before it. Prog Rock was largely a response to Rubber Soul, Sargent Pepper's and Pet Sounds. Punk wasn't just a reaction to slick soulless rock, it also owes a large debt to garage rock and of course their protopunk peers.

Having critically listened to music for the last thirty years, one can't help but hear the influences a band brings to the table. Frequently I will gush over a singer or band because it's a sound that reflects the sounds of my youth. I admire a songwriters ability to write a pop sing that would have been a hit in at any point in the history of rock.

This brings me back to the opening question. Is a band that ably mimics a musical style being unoriginal? The new Fleet Foxes album, 'Helplessness Blues' raises this question for me. I can tell you that I do adore this album. It is easily a four star piece of work, but did I give it that rating because of it's comfortable call backs to Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Simon and Garfunkel or The Byrds? This review had been planned to be written two weeks ago, when the album dropped. 'Helplessness Blues' has a timeless quality to it's sound, but I was left to ponder why I felt this way about it.

From the first song, 'Montezuma' with it's opening lyric of, 'So now I am older, Than my mother and father, When they had their daughter, Now what does that say about me.', I realized I was listening to something that was at once old and new. Lyrically, Robin Pecknold, walks that tight rope between solid soulful exploration and shared emotional experience without ever tipping into something more indulgent.

In an interview during the albums production, Pecknold told the Gaurdian, that he wanted to “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."

It does this old man's heart good to hear a twenty five year old referencing Van Morrison. I may have heard something like Helplessness Blues before, but, sometimes, everything old is new again.

We have some videos after the jump


Helplessness Blues

Grown Ocean

Fleet Foxes at Metacritic (87%)

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