There are two readings of Fleet Foxes' genial sophomore album. First, it is slightly dull; innocuous folk rhythms jostle against Robin Pecknold's demotic lyrics and boys'-choir three-part harmonies. Second, it is a nice experiment; its halcyon melodies, occasionally restrained, are loose enough to allow for some intriguing gambles.
The ultimate result is a rewarding album of lush, pastoral, psychedelic and vibrant compositions. When not showing off its meticulous craftwork, the album works marvelously.
There are some issues that are hard to ignore. For instance, Fleet Foxes still harbor the misconception that they are an English folk act, and baroque instrumentals like "The Cascades" only reinforce this ill-conceived notion. Additionally, Pecknold needs to fight the impulse to moon about "green apples" or working on an orchard "'til I'm sore," which play like bad middle-class fantasies.
That said, the songs here are musical wonderlands worth exhaustive exploration. "Helplessness Blues" unfolds beautifully. There is much to marvel in the bleary stomp of "Battery Kinzie," the vigorous, sloppy strumming that closes out "Sim Sala Bim" and the driving, electric rush of "Grown Ocean."
"The Shrine/An Argument," an intriguing eight-minute experiment that could do without its too-calculated climatic breakdown, serves as an ideal metaphor for the album: a bit banal, a lot ambitious and, ultimately, admirable.