Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Out now on Jagjaguwar
There are some quick and very obvious comparisons to be made with a band like Foxygen. Naturally, most of these relate to the number of nods they make to rock and pop artists of the 60s and 70s. The fact that so many bands cite Kinks, Bowie, Dylan, The Velvet Underground and The Rolling Stones as influences often serves to soften the effect this claim has on us, the listener. Who hasn’t been influenced by Dylan’s lyrics, Bowie’s freedom to experiment and Ray Davies’ insistence on creating a damn good melody?
Sure, there are elements of imitation here. Second track No Destruction, for instance, sounds like a direct ripoff of Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane (at least during its opening moments) while the title track’s first 30 seconds come across screaming of The Doors’ Break On Through and Creedence’s Susie Q. Third track On Blue Mountain alone is a veritable contender for musical plagiarism of the year (the victim being Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds). However, Foxygen don’t just reuse their inspirations. They don’t even recycle them. They gather them up, whisk them together dutifully and then redeliver them with, what can only be described as, panache. Such panache, in fact, that you are more than willing to forget all the obvious comparisons. If anything, it leaves you eager to cast all preconceptions aside and simply give these two the benefit of the doubt.
Once past this internal dialogue, you can sit down and bask in the glory of your well-made decision. From the hushed voices and lilting notes of opener In The Darkness, you will likely find a long, satisfied smile draw its way across your face. From here on in, it’s nothing but treats and goodies aplenty.
The melodies on this record are hum-in-the-shower catchy while the lyrics just keep on giving. Smart and poignant, vocalist Sam France delivers each line with the same knowing rhyme that Dylan made famous. He goes from taking pops at trust fund hipster babies (There’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore. / You may take what you are given, but you leave it on the floor) to looking for nothing but a good time (I got some money, but it isn’t mine. / And if you wanna be bummer, take a number. Baby, get in line). And all the while jumping from psychedelic musings, heaving intonations to insanity-fuelled screams. A regular Jim Morrison for the 21st Century.
The talent involved on this record can easily be overlooked when you consider that Foxygen are just two people. Aside from that, they’re both aged 22 and based on opposite sides of the United States (France in Olympia, WA and guitarist/keyboardist Jonathan Rado in New York, NY). If anything, it’s a miracle these two were ever able to make music together, let alone put out an EP (2012’s Take The Kids Off Broadway) and full-length record in the space of six months.
In a perfect world, a record should be a journey, discovery from beginning to end and from one song to the next. There are parts on Foxygen’s record that achieve this perfectly – and greatly benefit from the employment of decent headphones. Towards the end of On Blue Mountain, the music get so big and clustered that it takes over and begins to feel like the soundtrack to a trip that you never want to end. A vortex caught spinning around your perceptions of the world. Later on, Oh Yeah embarks on a voyage from the depths of the jungle before zipping over to the well-oiled floor of a 50s diner that has waitresses serving their customers on rollerskates. Later still, the track flies off to the Caribbean to sup on sweet-tasting cocktails from hollowed-out coconuts.
With so much going on, you’re sometimes left wondering where all these sounds are coming from – and whether the band can really pull it off live on stage. This record isn’t all big noises from few people, though. Fourth number San Francisco delivers a suckerpunch of a love story while managing to embody a calmer, more meditative Pink Floyd were they still fronted by Syd Barrett. Closer Oh No 2, while mildly insane to a point, emits a dash of The Beatles and supplies one of the most heart-warming, lip-quivering lines of the record.
If you believe in love, everything you see is love.
So, try to be what God wants you to be and say that “I love you” again.
Signed to Jagjaguwar in the summer of 2012, the two-piece has already been featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered, BBC 6Music and even made an appearance on an edition of Kemptation Mixtapes. Now, they’ve begun a transatlantic tour and plan to do another this coming summer. They may have only lived on this planet for 22 years so far, but together they have achieved more than most can say for themselves after 42 years or even 62. It’s enough to make an older man sigh…