All the promise reflected in Foxygen’s overdue debut full-length Take the Kids Off Broadway has been fully realized on their sophomore effort, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, which emerges as a triumphant achievement. Less than six months after Foxygen released their debut, we have been graced incredibly with a new record full of captivating and diverse songs that reveal surprising turns and subtleties. Though influences litter the songs of We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, as the title itself implies, Foxygen not only makes them their own but also blends them in a balanced and masterful way.
Within the first two songs, Foxygen channels the greatest bands of our time—the choral shouts of introduction on the opener recall Sgt. Pepper era Beatles, and follow-up “No Destruction” obviously channels Dylan, although there’s a dose of Leonard Cohen in there, too. If you don’t believe me, listen to “No Diamonds in the Mine” from Songs of Love and Hate. Even when they’re recalling essential artists, they retain their own voice; “No Destruction” is an album highlight. Though these points of reference are entirely positive, in the ensuing tracks the band does develop its own vision more clearly and truly takes ownership of the album
Epic and sprawling, “On Blue Mountain” blends psychedelia, folk, country, soul, and indie rock. Other than a touch of Velvet Underground, the track is all Foxygen, showcasing the group’s ability to deliver fresh, innovative, and memorable songs. The track ends in swirling atmospherics and a chorus of vocals. “San Francisco” departs drastically from the first three tracks, presenting an unexpected new facet of the band in its Left Banke-esque lilting vocals, strings, and the delicate vocal hook in the chorus: “That’s okay/I was born in L.A.” Though the track may be one of the album’s most divergent, it’s one to which I return often.
Foxygen use the heavy, plodding, lo-fi psychedelia of “Bowling Trophies” to segue into the funky jazz of the album’s lead single, “Shuggie.” The latter song reflects the band expressing their vision more clearly than at any point before, as the track slows, descends into a gospel chorus, and then easily shifts back into the verse. “Shuggie” is full of sudden joys and surprising changes. The title track screams by in a blaze of bombastic, psychedelic pop before Foxygen slows it down for dreamy, ambitious closer “Oh No 2.” The track recalls John Lennon at his best, delving into comical absurdity while retaining a beautiful sense of the surreal as the whirlwind of reverb builds. Foxygen throws in one final unexpected shift in the last minute—the track dissolves into a sparse piano that twinkles the album to its close.
With this effort, Foxygen proves themselves as 21st century ambassadors of peace and magic. As excellent as I believe this album to be, “good” is always a subjective descriptor. But how much one really listens to an album possesses enormous importance. Last year, I listened to Father John Misty’s debut more than any other record. This year, that record may be Foxygen’s second album. The band will play Austin on February 20th at the Mohawk. I will be there. So should you.