Of all the records I expected to fall in love with in 2011, Fleet Foxes' hugely anticipated second album, Helplessness Blues, was not one of them. Their first full-length, 2008's Fleet Foxes, rightly catapulted the Seattle group to the top of the class of indie folkers (with particularly high marks for vocal harmonizing, NPR-friendliness, and beards). Perhaps because enough time had passed—or, actually, probably because of all the imitators that fell in their wake—I believed, as maybe you do, that I'd had my fill of their swooping, gracious balladry. But lo and behold, May 3 sees the release of their dreaded second record, and as it turns out, it's fucking marvelous, guided by the compassionate voice of frontman (and newly minted Portlander) Robin Pecknold. Helplessness Blues' title track alone is a full album's worth of goose-bump moments, a two-part saga that transforms from quick-strumming hoedown into elegant pastoral, on par with the orchestral sculptures Neil Young constructed on the second Buffalo Springfield album. Fleet Foxes is back, and true believers have been rewarded with a sold-out show. Doubters will have to wait for their Edgefield show in July. NED LANNAMANN
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