Review By Winston Mann
While it’s true that bandying around monikers like ‘retro’ and ‘vintage’ to describe music sounding even remotely aged has become so common place that the adjectives themselves have been pushed to a point of losing any descriptive qualities, the sepia toned and unashamedly 60-70’s derived, bygone pop-rock tunes of New York multi-instrumentalist duo Foxygen are interwoven so tightly with free loving influence that it’s almost impossible to avoid their employment. In fact it would be hard to deny that 2011’s debut ‘Take the Kids off Broadway’ – an amalgamation of everything from The Velvet Underground to earlier Stones with a healthy dose of ‘Wall-O-Sound’ era Beatles (all usually chaotically thrown into the one track) – may well have treaded dangerously close to a copyright suit, had it not being too confusing a task to separate the numerous pieces of its colourful mural. This close to the bone approach proved to be polarising; on the one hand, the band produced a sound instantly fun and intrinsically recognisable, perfectly reminisced a time when kool-aid flowed and men donned flowers in their hair; yet on the other, apart from simply mixing the musical highlights of an era beloved by most, what else really was there to gain from Foxygen?
Two years on and not an awful lot has changed in ways of sonic formula for Sam France and Jonothan Rado. ‘We are the Ambassadors of 21st Century Peace and Magic’ still sees a bemused Lou Reed meandering about sunny late 60’s San Fran in a Sergeant Pepper outfit borrowed from Mick Jagger, only this time it feels like he’s less strung out. He’s on the straight and narrow, beginning a new life of improved structure and concept. He’s also taken a liking to The Sonics and Blonde on Blonde.
Given such an apparent overload of distinctive characteristics, it would be easy to see this record collapsing into a hazy mess of tie dye and nostalgia. But fact of the matter is: it doesn’t. What keeps Foxygen afloat is not France’s solid vocal delivery; which swaps from an ambivalent retelling of ‘someone who smokes pot in the subway’ (an unmistakable hark back to the sing-talk-drug-poetics of Reed and the Velvet Underground) on lazy organ framed groover ‘No Destruction’, to Jaggerish arrogance on catchy funk blues number ‘Oh Yeah’ or the well placed and produced instrumental moments like the subtle pop piano that stops ‘In the Darkness’ drifting too far off into Tame Impala territory or MGMT space on garagey ‘Blue Mountain’. It self consciously bounds from one idea to the next with the innocence of a woodland creature, without ever giving a feeling of cohesiveness. Not to be confusing, but rather to happily showcase the myriad of off-centre ideas the band has to offer.
Take brassy highlight ‘Shuggie’, diversifying wildly from its stripped verse to up-beat Bowie in full flight (think Young American) chorus, to end finally in a Beatlesian sing along; all the time leaking nonsensical lyrics like ‘I met your daughter the other day… she had rhino shaped ear rings’. It makes little sense, but that doesn’t change the fact that, as a song, it’s fun as hell. Same can be said of quirky and infectious ‘San Francisco’, starting with catchy hooks adding some stick-in-your-head-for-days angelic backing vocals that coated with a candy sweet glockenspiel and you’ve got a veritable Kinks go to Koney Island of a track.
But where does that leave the question of receptive polarisation? Basically, where it has always been. Some may find the cramming of so many influential and quintessential artistic sounds into one album overbearing, irritating and frankly, obnoxious. But you feel like that doesn’t bother Foxygen. At all. End of the day they’re too busy getting high and listening to rickety old vinyls to be concerned with what some stuffed shirts think. And overall that’s how 21st century feels; pretty damn care free. It’s too knowingly vintage, too tongue in cheek, too well produced and mostly too wonderfully playful to be punished for the way it’s ripping off so many household names.