This is meant to be an article about Foxygen, but the author got a bit sidetracked. I figured it was worthy of a post.http://www.allvoices.com/article/100001632Foxygen’s "...And Star Power" isn't necessarily the album people want, but it’s the album we need.
In early 2013 Foxygen released their breakthrough record “We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Love and Magic”, a brilliant neo-psychedelic/stoner rock album that brought nostalgia to an era the lead singer Sam France (24) and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rado (24) never lived. The two have been playing music together since their early days of high school, making various EP’s which often came out sounding like a pre-pubescent mix of Captain Beefheart meets Guided by Voices. The most prominent of these was “Jurassic Exxplosion Phillipic” an album that has 36 tracks, none of which go over 3:26. In May of 2011 they released “Take the Kids off Broadway”, which was re-released by Jagjaguwar in 2012 as their studio debut (although some will argue “Exxplosion” was their first Full-length). “Broadway” brought the revival of the late 60’s and early 70’s most prolific Rock N’ Roll tenants. Echoes of Mick Jagger, The Doors and Pink Floyd, had they been modern DIY artists, bled through the duos songs. Foxygen’s moderate hype train picked up momentum heading into early 2013 when “21st Century” was released to favorable reviews, and alluring write-ups from some of the world’s biggest music blogs. The band started to develop a sufficient amount of buzz; unfortunately it also came with its negative aspects as it so often does. A now former band member (as well as ex-girlfriend of France) Elizabeth Fey blogged about the bands fractured relationship online. Claiming there was resentment between Rado and France, due to Rado’s predominant behavior, among other things. There also were on-stage meltdowns from France, including one that resulted in a major injury. Yet after a turbulent year the band was able to put things aside. Whether there truly was exhibited tension or whether Fey had developed a bit of a Yoko Ono Syndrome, has stayed ambiguous, but none-the-less the group continued forward and on October 14th released their newest LP. After the success of their prior release the band could’ve gone right for the mainstream, but instead bowed out to take listeners on the transcendental mind fuck that is “…And Star Power”
This wasn't the first time in recent history a band with accessible tunes failed to continue in that trend. Back in 2010 the Neo-Psychedlic/electro-pop duo from Brooklyn MGMT released their sophomore album “Congratulations” to a widely disgruntled and, for a lack of a better word, confused audience. Over the previous two to three years MGMT had exploded onto the music scene with freakishly catchy electro-psych-dance songs. Songs such as “Time to Pretend” and “Kids” were everywhere from motion picture trailers to sports stadiums, from Williamsburg hipsters, to Tempe frat boys. So when the band ditched the sound that made them the most popular buzz band of the late 00’s to become a five piece rock band making a more visceral release then one that appeased the masses, it was bashed by critics and audiences alike. People expected MGMT to follow up with their Grammy nominated sound, but instead they made a self-indulgent “rock” album.
What people failed to realize was that MGMT never intended to be rock stars, there aesthetic while catchy and colorful, were also completely satirical of contemporary pop music. “Congratulations” is an incredibly underrated release; it hasn't exactly reached cult classic level like some people initially thought it might, though it’s still a benchmark in the sense that it showed a popular rock band, signed from their college dorms to Columbia records, could still have integrity. Even with the constant pressure from their label to make more commercially inclined music.
Foxygen’s situation is not nearly as extreme. They haven’t been so universally coveted; they aren't on a major label and though exoteric, probably weren't being played at your local Sigma Chi house last summer. Although they easily could’ve sold-out and made incredibly catchy pop songs. The kind that you'd find during a montage on some CBS comedy. So instead they differed and went completely bat-shit out of left field. Redeeming that pre-pubescent Neo-Beefheart sound from “Exxplosion”, and by adding bits of Todd Rundgren, Iggy Pop, and The Kinks to the mix you have “…And Star Power”. “Star Power” is a 24 track extravaganza that seems to contain every ounce of material France and Rado have drawn up over the last two years. Upon first listen it’s a bit of a mess. The band holds together quite well for the first five tracks before breaking off into a series of instrumentals that all almost seem like they were demos that never got completed. The grooves are killer, but you wish they would've been a little more anthropomorphic. This happens a few more times, “Hot Summer” has a Carousel ride from hell feel too it, as the band does its best Suicide impression and tracks “Can’t Contextualize My Mind” and “Talk” feel like they were uncompleted cuts for The Stooges during the “Fun House” era. As with arguably every double album, aside from maybe The Rolling Stones “Exile on Main St.”, there are a few straight-up throwaway tracks, “Cold Winter/Freedom” is a terribly un-captivating 6:14 you could do without and there certainly is no need for a mini sequel in “Freedom II”.
Despite a few songs that drag a little beyond necessity and an album that as a whole feels like a Kandinsky painting, there are some absolute gems. “Coulda Been My Love” with its female choir backed harmonies and soothing guitar shriek fills, is the slow dance at a prom in a parallel universe. It’s followed by the brilliant opiate induced love song “Cosmic Vibrations”. The band also has its fair share of high tempo jams as well, “Matress Warehouse” feels like the opening title montage for a seventies buddy cop film and “Brooklyn Police Station” starts out sounding like a Roky Erickson jam that eventually breaks down to a Haight-Ashbury afternoon in the park, where everything seems to be passing you in slow motion. On first listen, or even on the first four listens it is quite overwhelming (it has taken me a week since its initial release to get a firm grasp), but if you give it some time the fluctuation between pop songs and odd instrumentals find a way to coexist.
Much like MGMT’s “difficult” second album, Foxygen will likely not be greeted well by critics, and they will be snubbed by some fans of their previous releases. The album has some disappointing moments, some songs you wish they would've inflated individually rather than the track list itself, but i'd be hard pressed to find a release these days that doesn't. Also “Star Power” serves as an important reminder to music fans that musicians are still willing to make daring pieces of art. With so many artists arriving on the scene at rampant paces audiences can often be overwhelmed, and attention spans can desecrated. In this era it’s quite easy for a band to have one unappealing release and forever fall into a bit of a purgatory. Foxygen’s album is undoubtedly self-indulgent, yet it feels that word is too often looked at with disdain. Self-Indulgence has led to some of our greatest records, “Pet Sounds”, “Kid A”, “In Utero”, David Bowie’s “Berlin” era, the list goes on. It would be hyperbolic to compare “…Star Power” to these classics, but the point is that artists should never shy away from making self -indulgent albums no matter how intense the pressure comes from fans and label heads. Some of the greatest works in audio have been made in that mindset. Foxygen’s France and Rado are two young dudes, both in their early twenties and while the ideas on this album seemed to be pulled from various terrains, they all serve as anticipation to see where this band, who've already been at it for a decade, go next.