Recent reactions - to Foxygen’s new album - have been divisive.
Forever the experimentalist, the jack of all tunes and notorious theatricals, it’s hardly a surprise that the Californian outfit’s newest outing often features a 40-piece orchestra. More of a jolt to the system, though, is the running time.
After the 80 minute, 3 act epic …And Star Power showcased each and every angle of Foxygen’s wide array of sounds in gratuitous detail, Hang clocks in at a speedy 32 minutes. Every track is a complete song, beautifully recorded and full of life, and Sam France and Jonathan Rado once again prove their ability to write well for any ensemble, although some don’t see this as wholly positive.
Many have labelled – Hang as too derivative – to be called a classic.
It’s true that one listen to Hang floods you with recognisable titbits of sound; on ‘Avalon’, the influence of The Supremes and ABBA loom large in a warm, whirlwind trip through the honky tonk sound of the 70s. This, however, comes over as far more than a simple pastiche. Each influence is so closely and lovingly referenced that it cannot be put down to laziness, more a knowing homage.
Moreover, the way that ‘Avalon’ and fifth track ‘America’ hurriedly shift from one genre to another multiple times in a matter of seconds show that there’s more to this than just a nod to Foxygen’s peers. ‘America’ takes a saccharine ode to the USA and processes it through a piano ballad, brass band and swing band over and over again until the track crashes to a halt. A timely social commentary, but more impressive is the adept and thrilling orchestration that keeps changing step. It’s this, and the undoubted quality of the song-writing that silences the doubters.
It’s what Foxygen – always do, morph and try their – hand at anything.
Lead single ‘Follow The Leader’ is a vintage pop track, full to the brim with soaring strings, brash brass punctuation and a lingering soul beat. It achieves what Foxygen often manage with ease, by feeling instantly recognisable despite only hearing it once, like previous hits ‘Shuggie’ and ‘Coulda Been My Love’. It comes across as exactly what detractors claimed it wasn’t – classic.
‘On Lankershim’ combines piano stylings resembling Elton John and classic country music harmonies, while France gives his customary vocal mixture of Bowie and Jagger. ‘Trauma’, meanwhile, has a little Les Miserables and a lot of Leonard Cohen, while there’s even time for a little Oom-pah music in quickie ‘Upon a Hill’.
France’s vocal performance, burning with melodrama, always adds a little touch of irony – the more earnest the backdrop, the better. Thus, with this grand spectacle behind him, he relishes the swoops and swirls like a cabaret singer, most notably in the ludicrous ‘Rise Up’ – a barnstorming, pedal to the metal, Springsteenian conclusion to the album.
Don’t identify – Foxygen as nostalgia – but innovators.
Foxygen’s musical identity is not defined by a single style or sound, but rather how they communicate through it. The point is not that they can’t find a style to stick to – instead they show just how far they can stretch, and just how big they can be. They achieve far more with an orchestra than many can muster, and while their song-writing skills are as good as this, their musical collages are only going to get wilder.