Album Review: Fleet Foxes – ‘Helplessness Blues’

More soggy nonnying for the emotionally stunted

It was Conor Kiley of glam-metal reprobates Holy Ghost Revival who gave the world the term ‘fucking canoeing music’ to nail the flaccid faux-outdoorsy sonics of [a]Fleet Foxes[/a]. Conor, babes: you wuz right. [a]Fleet Foxes[/a] suck. They’re the soy-latte house band of Starbucks.

They peddle the same sort of fake-rustic rootsiness that seems to be colonising our era: all these flatpack off-the-peg dreams of Ruritania that iPad-stashing mid-lifes have taken up as a counterpoint to their rabid technophilia. They lull you in with their flawlessly polished music and hey-nonny-nonny you into a hypnagogic state, with the aim of making the world safe for the bland, the dull and the wi-fi enabled.

‘Helplessness Blues’, then, is pretty much ‘Canoe 2: Return To Lake Flaccid’. ‘Battery Kinzie’ is the frosty choral ‘White Winter Hymnal’ one, ‘Montezuma’ the wending ‘Your Protector’ one, ‘The Plains/Bitter Dancer’ the foresty spooky-wooky one.There can be no doubting that they’ve spent an age adding baubles, fixing things, even, apparently, hauling out the not-even-joking ‘Tibetan singing bowl’ to expand their palate. Robin Pecknold made them scrap one entire album, and only the rest of the band’s refusal stopped him from scrapping this one too.

It feels like the same neurotic perfectionism that makes him question his own talents is what makes him such a bloodless figure. Here is a man who reportedly has no friends outside the band – bar a girlfriend with whom he was splitting up at the time. For a man as ill at ease with emotions as that, dipping into introspection can easily come off as solipsism.

It’s Pecknold’s milksop voice that dominates, to the point that the unwilling will feel like they’re listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash & A Lonely Duck. For a two-second moment – on ‘The Shrine/An Argument’ – he finds a roar behind the check-in desk clerk, and it’s a startling wake-up. Again, there are flashes of lyrical concision that hint at real poetry – like the title track’s much-quoted internal debate between wanting to be unique and wanting to be lost in a greater whole.

But really, despite all the ‘celestial’s and ‘life-affirming’s with which the critics will paper this, the truth is that no-one is ever going to sleep with you because you played them a song that begins with the immortal line: “Ruffled the fur of the collie ’neath the table…”. Canoe dig it? No thanks.

Gavin Haynes

Order a copy of Fleet Foxes’ ‘Helplessness Blues’ from Amazon