Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues and youth

I've had the Helplessness Blues all day, listening to the fine second album by Fleet Foxes while painting my house. The swelling vocal harmonies, acoustic guitars and songs about growing, being young and the indecision that comes with boundless possibilities ran through my head as a menial task was done. I worked 'till I was sore.

I loved their first album but there's real growth to this follow-up. While their debut had songs that were rarely personal and that seemed more like folk-bred traditionals, Helplesslessness Blues is more introspective, a fact beautifully characterised by the "mind map" featured in the album cover.

Those folk songs still have a place and they sound great even if their meaning is hard to decipher ("Wide eyed walker" Anyone?) Just like Fleet Foxes, the phrasing may not really mean anything, but the effect remains powerfull.

What has knocked me over is the title cut, a song in the first person in which Robin Pecknold's singular voice starts singing about being a "cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me" but having no idea what that would be. He goes on to ask what he should do, what cog should he serve while decrying those that he belives he should rally against. These passages conclude with the refrain "I'll get back to you someday soon you will see." possibly implying that there's no time for that now or that that decision doesn't have to be made yet.

That sentiment of someday soon you will see is an echo of the first song on the album, Montezuma, which begins:

So now I am older than my mother and father
when they had their daughter
now what does that say about me

Oh how could I dream of such a selfless and true love
could I wash my hands of
just looking out for me?

Another introspective lyric about time and not quite doing what it's expected, be the daddy cog in a family machine, and why should he, considering that he still in a selfish phase, something we should all confront when growing up.

Bedoin Dress picks up theme of selfishness and helplessness with it's first lines:

If to borrow is to take and not return
I have borrowed all my lonesome life
And I can't, no I can't get through
The borrower's debt is the only regret of my youth

That last line could easily mean student loans, however, it's more than that. Being young sometimes means dependence or owing a debt to "the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me." Moreover, it also implies that one is only taking and not giving, here again we return to "Helplessness Blues" and the idea of serving a purpose, manning a station, doing something.

And here's where I ask myself, what purpose do I serve. I work for a newspaper, supposedly serving the public. I have a wife, I gladly serve her. I believe in fair wages, immigration rights, taxing the rich, choice, gay marriage and a ton of other "liberal" things that don't really make me unique. Boundless possibilities just seem to narrow the actual decisions we make, the effort we put into all these causes- reduced to like them on Facebook or a 140-character response.

Then again, there's life to live. Green apples to enjoy, dreams, questions and if you have an orchard, or a house, work 'till you're raw.

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