Album Review: Foxygen’s “…And Star Power”

Foxygen_And_Star_PowerAs we approach this weekend and the wonderfulness that is Fun Fun Fun Fest, Pop Press International is greasing the gears and filling the tank, ready to tackle yet another successful festival at the heels of our festival season here in Austin, TX. With the elections over and shame hanging over our outvoted heads, we look to this weekend as a beacon of hope that good things do happen, and that all hope is not lost. Here to help us remember is a California band, Foxygen, playing this weekend (showtimes at the bottom). With a radically different approach from 2013’s We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, Foxygen is back with their third album on mega indie label Jagjaguwar …And Star Power. Self produced and released October 12, the album is bold in its presentation, stretching out over twenty-four tracks (now that we are strictly in the mp3 generation, do young people know what a double LP is? a question for another time…) and almost a full hour and a half of music, chatter, sound effects, studio wizardry, and guest appearances by the Flaming Lips and Of Montreal. Behind all the noise is Sam France and Jonathan Rado turning the knobs and screeching into microphones on various tape machines and analog equipment–studio recordings that sound like bedroom distractions from the grand pop masterpieces that float somewhere within the depths of their collective minds.

This, I think, is the crux of Foxygen’s output. Listening to their first proper album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, I hear a fully realized studio album of accessible indie pop rock that borrows (heavily) from decades past but breathes a youthful dose of energy into the dusty records France and Rado undoubtedly listened to from their parents’ collections. Not to pigeonhole the band too tightly, their single off Peace & Magic, the wonderfully breezy “San Francisco,” is uniquely their own. But what Foxygen has seemingly chosen to do with …And Star Power is shed some light on the creative process, going for one of those super-long albums full of outtakes and “behind the scenes” material, like George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. These “extra bits” give us just that: a deeper look into the process of making an album. For the layman, it might seem easy to criticize a piece of art, but when the process is revealed and the layers begin to be pulled away, we see a more complex creature than first observed. After multiple looks we begin to notice a detail of shadowing we previously overlooked. Or in this case, some random chatter is not so random after all.

Let us not forget there are some wonderful cuts off this new album. The lead single “How Can You Really” bounces like you’re floating on air with its timeless and simplistic refrain: “How can you really love someone who can’t love you/How can you love someone you can’t leave/It’s my fault, it’s your fault too/How ’bout you go and find somebody who can love you?” The major-seventh phrasings and piano groove give it some soft rock undertones, especially joined with the coy lead vocals from Sam France. The following track “Coulda Been My Love” is equally soft and melancholy in a sugary sweet way, reverbed-out slide guitar crying in the back of the mix.

A semi-popular conversation with one of my roommates concerns a band’s decision to “regress” back to lo-fi recordings. Albums like Monomania from Deerhunter come to mind. Most bands move in a direction increasing in fidelity, but Foxygen has left the produced sound that created Peace & Magic and found an old home in the dusty tape machines that leave greasy fingerprints all over these vignettes. Some songs have a solid structure and arrangement, but the overt organic quality of the album pervades the listening and we’re left with a consistent string of scenes out of a scattered set of minds. France and Rado play with the idea of an album and what it means to have music that is meant to be listened to. Can we love ourselves and believe that we are being uniquely serenaded at that particular moment? Or does the creative process reveal itself too much and take us out of the experience?

I believe the success with …And Star Power is its energy. Through all 81 minutes, France and Rado are present and participating in an enigmatic performance caught on tape. Confusing one time and pleasurable the next, we are taken to cosmic territory with “Mattress Warehouse” and the very seriously titled, “Can’t Contextualize My Mind,” literally challenging anyone to take anything seriously. The king of anti-serious sincerity himself, Mr. Wayne Coyne and Co. join Foxygen for the California valley peace ballad “Everyone Needs Love.” Like a Bacharach production, the jazzy chords weave and roll through mixed feelings, all held together with lo-fi Scotch tape. If it’s any indication where the band is heading in the future, let me know.

While Foxygen has created a performance piece dedicated to tape, they hit the mark with a couple solid numbers that prove they can write the songs, have the chops, and even the humor that goes into making multi-dimensional works of art that tend to outlive the cheaper thrills. Besides, it’s just rock and roll, man. France has a tendency to live that mantra very literally, falling off stage and breaking a limb, but let’s hope we don’t see any accidents this weekend at Fun Fun Fun Fest. You can catch the band at these times:

Sunday @ 3:35pm – Orange Stage

Sunday @ 11:45pm (Nites performance) – Red 7 (outdoors)

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