Earlier this week, Seattle six-piece Fleet Foxes announced their new album Helplessness Blues, due to be released in late May 2011. Alongside this announcement was the first single from the record, prompting much excitement about the next endeavour from one of the most popular and gifted folk acts of the last few years. The band’s sound, as always defined by their magnificent vocal harmonising, manages to both uplift and serenade, and there’s real cause for optimism based on this new offering.
However, what this announcement also does is to remind us of the brilliance of the band, dating back to their eponymous début album of 2008, where we find, as the second track, the superb ‘White Winter Hymnal’. A song which combines some heavenly harmonies with mysterious, maudlin lyrics – “turn the white snow red as strawberries in the summertime” – it’s a fantastic example of what the band can create using relatively little instrumentation. ‘Drops In The River’, a track from the band’s Sun Giant EP, achieves a similar feat.
What this latter track doesn’t have is a video which matches its musical brilliance. ‘White Winter Hymnal’ comes complete with a simple yet fantastic visual accompaniment; much like the band themselves, it’s rustic, original and strangely poignant. The band, modelled as plasticine figures, quite literally turn back time, revolving a magical wheel which turns they grey beards back to brown and black, their aged features back to those of youth. Of course, such an act cannot last, and the grim realities of aging are brought crashing back down upon Fleet Foxes: flowers go from full bloom to withered husks, and the group tragically returns to old age. It’s a simple idea, but one which gels wonderfully with the band’s musical ethos, and provides a fitting companion to one of the Seattle group’s finest tracks.