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Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues

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"Oh man, what I used to be," coos Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold on "Montezuma," the plaintive opening track on the group's surprising new LP. Pecknold may have changed, but on the surface his band has stayed much the same: The reverb-y four-part harmonies and acoustic strumming that characterized Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut remains. But the ever-expanding Seattle collective has taken a jammier path on Helplessness Blues, incorporating Dead-style guitar flourishes and layers of psych-tinted instrumentation into its CSNY-style folk. To be perfectly honest, the contrarian dickhead in me was sort of prepared to hate Helplessness Blues for what was sure to be a movement toward the middle of the road from a band already halfway there. But tracks like the eight-minute "The Shrine/An Argument," which flat out defies all pop sensibility, kicked that soapbox out from under me and landed me flat on the floor. It's a nice kind of hurt. (4 out of 5 stars)

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