Perched on America's western coast, the seaside city of Seattle has a certain knack for gifting music to the wider world, from the anguished grunge scrawl of Nirvana to Jimi Hendrix's iconic revisions of American rock. Brush aside the city's ties to 80s punk circles and Woody Guthrie-era radical folk, and you're still left with Sub Pop's untouchable output. What then of Fleet Foxes, the latest of Seattle natives to cause a stir in the music world?

Well, Helplessness Blues, the sequel to their lauded eponymous debut, shows exactly why the Bella Union band might soon be mentioned in the same breath as their home-town forebears. An alluring collection of songs combining So-Cal thrift, baroque pop melody and arresting poeticism, the album survives the innate gimmickry of its antiquated sound to deliver a hefty slab of touching folk wizardry. Ghosting through sumptuous harmonies and glowering acoustic guitar duels, it confirms the group as much more than a Crosby Stills Nash and Young throwback, as some critics purported them to be last time around.

Following a debut album that sold in excess of 500,000 copies on these shores alone is no easy feat, but the sextet's return is emphatic, unnerving and wholly convincing. It is a braver effort, unafraid to veer off into unknown waters and with a more forthcoming central character, as chief songwriter Robin Pecknold trades his usual bouts of eclectic imagery for heart-on-sleeve accounts of his inner-most troubles. It is hard to refuse sympathy to a man sounding so broken, so deterred, by the realisation that time has passed him by without him even noticing: "Now I am older / than my mother and father / when they had their daughter / what does that say about me?" regales Pecknold on opening salvo 'Montezuma'.

Pecknold's songs pick from such an ill-assorted roster of musical traditions that his most ostensible influences are literary, embedded in his lyrics. The album makes known its literary allusions early on, peppering second track 'Bedouin Dress' with references to WB Yeats, while his favoured subject, nature, is treated to lengthily descriptions that are pure Steinbeck. So rural is his lyrical framework, in fact, that listening while stepping through a bustling urban city locale is tinged with a sense of betrayal. It does occasionally drift into silliness; the apocalyptic drone that accompanies Pecknold's slow repeats in double-headed centrepiece 'The Shrine / The Argumen't of "Green apples on a tree / they belong only to me" is a mismatch of stern proportions.

As much as Pecknold's surging guitars strums and dulcet tones propel the record, credit is due to his accomplices who add to the skeleton of the album enough colour and life to fill a Len Lye film. The flutter of flutes that trill in 'Grown Ocean', dissonant clarinets and brass that add a jarring edge to 'The Shrine...' and medieval-sounding mandolins that feature in 'The Cascades' all linger underneath the tides of reverberating percussion and massed vocals carefully, lending the songs depth for Pecknold to harbour his rich emoting in.

Fleet Foxes' archaic medley of sounds is at odds with all current trends: the slow electronic juttering of dub-step, the high-production values of chart-clinging pop, the glossed-over indie anthems that fill dance floors. Yet their appeal is enduring and shows on their forthcoming tour are already sold out in advance. Whether they will enter them into the decorated halls of the Seattle's unique musical dynasty remains to be seen, but on the evidence of this softly stirring release, it's looking good for the young group.

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