Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues"

"If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore," sings Robin Pecknold on Fleet Foxes' sophomore album, "Helplessness Blues," and you don't doubt him. Carefully composed and lovingly arranged, the set sounds like the work of musicians who find meaning in effort. (You needn't read any of Pecknold's recent interviews to envision the woodshedding he's described as part of the new album's creation.) Yet in spite of its considerable indie-folk intricacies-the delicate fingerpicked guitar on the track "Blue Spotted Tail," for example, or the lush choral vocals in opener "Montezuma"-"Helplessness Blues" neatly sidesteps the overworked feeling that weighs down so much Pitchfork fare. In fact, it might be the year's airiest outing so far, with a natural melodic grace that recalls prime-era Simon & Garfunkel. Only in closer "Grown Ocean," with crashing cymbals and trilling woodwinds, do you get a sense that Fleet Foxes are actively trying to impress you. Even then, though, you're impressed all the same.