The only real ‘end of the world’ record out there – Foxygen (album cover)
It takes a lot to get me laughing sincerely and smiling pleasantly. Foxygen’s mix of playful sarcasm and neo-hippie sincerity has just the right mixture to elicit these reactions. Concocting a retro psych-folk rock sensibility without the taint of nostalgia, this youthful duo cleverly re-appropriates the past while reapplying it to our often jaundiced and distrustful era. With the aptly titled We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, Foxygen look to prove that the optimism and whimsical reveries of Flower Power and the Age of Aquarius are both alive and vibrant among a new generation.
Sounding like a musical time capsule, Foxygen’s sophomore album derives from but is not derivative of the fusion of late 60s folk and psych rock slotting between the oft-disregarded (Rolling) Stone’s Their Satanic Majesties Request or a less “woo” Moody Blues record. In fact, you can hear the traditional 60s rock pedigree on the chorus of “On Blue Mountain” with its allusion to Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” – an all-time personal favorite. Where the King would keep within convention and restraint, the lads of Foxygen spiral the saccharine sweet sounds into a jumble of distortion and cacophonous joy. Or, take “No Destruction” with is pastoral-cowboy balladry (oddly evocative of Pavement’s “Range Life”) telling the tale of one needing distance from a destructive lover/friend/world, fleeing modernity for sylvan simplicity, through a bluesy rock sound that swirls into a furious finish.
But, the tracks on this record are not simply a serendipitous jumble of chaotic sounds as evidenced by perfectly pitched baroque folk number “San Francisco” reminiscent of mid-career Beatles (the same era that Tame Impala revisited with Lonerism) or the non-diegetic ditties populating a French New Wave or Wes Anderson film (is there really a difference?). The aloof narrator of “San Francisco” perfectly encapsulates the lyrical playfulness of the record with his seesawing tone, from sincere recollections (dreaming of past love) to practical observations (a brother away at service), neither lost in poetry nor beset by complications; the narrator’s musical partner in crime offers an even more stark indifference, intoning responses with a melodic yet Anna Karina ennui. Although many tracks please and amuse, like “Shuggie” with is surreal dream vibe mixed with a Rocky Horror-like explosiveness, it is the extended composition “Oh Yeah” that really demonstrates this duo’s genius. Starting with a seductive bluesy-Stones quality, the band deftly slips back into a mix of Supertramp-falsetto with a Mott the Hoople (“All the Young Dudes” era) vibe wafting into a cool jam perfect for grooving with the right amount of percussion and soul to start the spinners and the cats sliding across the dance floor, all while intoning Seuss-esque surrealistic lyrics. Yeah, it is like the aural equivalent of paisley patterned scenery and patchouli scented airs. In other words, it is the sort of track to get the whole party going – hippie, rocker, blues person, hepcat, and mod alike.
Every time I listen to We Are the 21st Century… (or their debut Takes the Kids Off Broadway), an unabashed sense of happiness washes over me because I believe in the earnestness of Foxygen’s aesthetic with its impressive grasp of refashioning the music I’ve geeked-out on for so many years. Although other records might resonate at a deeper emotional level or offer more contemporary insight, these songs are all about and for those who have loved and been loving rock and roll music with all its quirky, outsider, and weirdo tendencies and its unrepentant optimism.
Do yourself a favor, turn down the judgment dial and listen with ears free from the 21st Century’s “critical” air, and appreciate the fecund aural landscape created by the boys of Foxygen.
Listen to Foxygen’s We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic here.
For more information (tour dates and album ordering) go here.