Album Review of Hang by Foxygen.
Release Date: Jan 20, 2017
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
For a band perpetually on the verge of packing it in, Foxygen have, with Hang, delivered a solidly declarative statement, one struck through with a level of commitment and dazzling confidence not seen since the era of overblown operatic pop they unabashedly ape throughout. Borrowing a page from the Meatloaf/Jim Steinman/Todd Rundgren playbook, Sam France and Jonathan Rado up the ante in nearly every conceivable aspect of their sound, resulting in their biggest, most lavishly composed genre pastiche yet. After the transitional nature of 2014’s …And Star Power and the questionable status of the band following their now apparently tongue-in-cheek “Farewell Tour”, the prospect of the group coming back with any statement, let alone one as monumental as this, was seriously in doubt.
Foxygen’s export of flamboyant, unabashed pop has been gracing our airwaves for the last decade, but the last we’d heard from the duo was Jonathan Rado’s involvement with some of our favourite artists and their respective 2016 albums. Rado briefly hung up his boots and swapped synths for switches, taking up the wizarding role of producer behind the desk of The Lemon Twigs’ Do Hollywood and Whitney’s Light Upon the Lake. When you listen to these albums you can definitely hear his influence, both LPs inhabiting an extremely lo-fi, analogue sound reminiscent of The Beatles, The Beach Boys and earlier Foxygen records.
Foxygen make postmodern music. Ever since their 2013 breakthrough album We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic (and even before that, with Take The Kids Off Broadway), Sam France and Jonathan Rado have become masters of recycling references in a veiled manner. They manage to play with influences while reinventing the past by changing the way we look at it, without ever diving too deep into any kind of compromise.
We've come a long way in the five short years since Foxygen's breakout release, Take the Kids Off Broadway: a gloriously all-over-the-place disc of psych-pop and endearingly lo-fi rock freak-outs. Two more increasingly ambitious records followed in rapid succession... and then nothing. After such a prolific spillage of music, Jonathan Rado and Sam France took what for most any other musician would be a normal break between albums.
Psychologists suggest that continual encounters with novelty can make time go slower. Try it out on the third album from these stylistic magpies. It spans only half an hour – a fraction of the California duo’s last sprawling effort – but it’s near perpetual motion. Animated by a game 40-piece symphony orchestra, Hang filters the glam maximalism of the 70s – heavy on Bowie, Reed and Rundgren – through a digital attention span.
Opener ‘Follow The Leader’ is a real pop nugget that swings like Foxygen classics ‘Shuggie’ and ‘How Can You Really’. Backing vocals, brass and a brilliant bassline coalesce under France’s vocals, which lurch from growling to snotty to sugar-sweet. Upbeat ode to utopia ‘Avalon’ makes sense of France telling music site Nothing But Hope And Passion that ‘Hang’ is Foxygen’s “Disney record”.Epic lead single ‘America’ supports that description further.
Sharing a title with the final track of their prior release, …And Star Power, Hang is the fourth LP from classic rock cognoscenti Foxygen. The duo of singer Sam France and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rado present a dazzling confection here that's in stark contrast to its erratic 24-track predecessor. Hang's rather meticulous eight entries find France and Rado accompanied by a 40-plus-piece orchestra for the entire set, which also features appearances from the Lemon Twigs and the Flaming Lips' Steven Drozd.
If Foxygen’s new album brings comparisons to The Lemon Twigs then it will come as no surprise to learn that the D’Addario brothers guest here, as do Matthew E White and Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips, not to mention a full symphony orchestra on every track. “Merry Christmas from the pines”, opens America, a rousing anthem to a nation in flux. Harp swirls and Queen-esque interludes demonstrate the scale of Jonathan Rado and Sam France’s ambition; every song winds up like a Broadway revue combined with a journey through pop history.
Though Hang marks Foxygen's fourth public LP (masterminds Jonathan Rado and Sam France have been recording under that moniker since their high school days), it's the first they've made in a proper studio. To mark the occasion — and in true Foxygen style —they went all out. Recorded in a vintage L.A. studio onto two-inch analog tape, the eight-song album harkens back to the glitz and glamour of old-timey Hollywood — with a 40-piece orchestra on every track, to boot.The experiment largely pays off.
“What are we good for if we can’t make it?” Sam France wondered on the last Foxygen album, …And Star Power. It was a pertinent question, since for a while there it didn’t seem like his band would make it. At the height of their dysfunction, Foxygen seemed to break up every week; they quickly became as known for their onstage meltdowns as their eccentric classic-rock pastiches.
Since 2013's much-buzzed-about We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, Foxygen's Sam France and Jonathan Rado have unfortunately gained as much attention for canceled tour dates, antagonistic on-stage rants, and intra-band squabbling as they have for their considerable 1960s-style songwriting craftsmanship. Their last effort as Foxygen, . .
Foxygen are not entering quietly back into the music scene. After a two-year hiatus plagued by breakup rumors and physical abuse allegations, the indie rock duo (comprising Jonathan Rado and Sam France) decided to come back in the most Foxygen way possible — with a 40-piece band in tow. Perhaps the time off did them well — Rado produced a solo project during that downtime in addition to records by Whitney and The Lemon Twigs, an experience that clearly diversified his already impressive musical ability.
Foxygen’s new album is barely over half an hour long, but it still manages to be all kinds of ridiculous within that timeframe. The Californian duo’s psych tendencies have blossomed here into wild glam Bowie pastiches, camp vaudeville turns and big band brass freakouts (apparently, all eight songs feature a 40-plus-piece orchestra). At first the wackiness is too much to digest, a sort of “you don’t have to be mad to review this, but it helps!” Yet against the odds, Hang does reward patience – there’s a Todd Rundgren-esque devotion to melody throughout and, on the country-tinged On Lankershim, something approaching a conventional tune (until the funny voices arrive).
Foxygen were on to something with their 2013 breakthrough. We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic was a collection of spidery psychedelia in considerable debt to Marc Bolan and the Rolling Stones, but with a tart attitude all of their own. Whatever promise Jonathan Rado and Sam France showed evaporated with their follow-up, 2014’s ...And Star Power, a self-indulgent, unfocused mess of a record that bordered at times on unlistenable.
The punks have failed us. They should have uprooted this tuber-shaped, overbaked shit decades ago. Mind, Foxygen haven’t had an original thought between their two noggins in four years. Romance and sunshine occupy every cranny of their headspace - they can barely eat or defecate, for such petty chores distract them from the fine art of daydreaming.
Frequently compared to rock icons such as The Rolling Stones and David Bowie, which have been warranted in the past, Foxygen goes a decidedly different route on its fourth LP, Hang. Here, the L.A. act, composed of the duo Sam France and Jonathan Rado, emulates the Day-Glo ebullience of producer Dave Fridmann’s Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev albums, with kitchen-sink ambition courtesy of a 40-piece orchestra, assisted by Matthew White and conducted by Trey Pollard.
For an act once steeped in psychedelia, Foxygen have always had a clear-eyed presence. Back in 2013, the alleged ambassadors of Peace & Magic cut through the noise of a million West Coast competitors by paring down dusty, fuzz-drenched staples into the tightest of summerset euphorias, all while finding new terrain in revivalism. But following the breakthrough, the band hit some rather glaring setbacks.
Hang has a sincerity to it that I wish I heard more in music. If there’s one unequivocally positive thing I can say about this album, it’s that Foxygen isn’t phoning it in by any stretch of the imagination. There’s orchestration to spare (bits of it reminded me of Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed, which you can take however you like), and the arrangements never sound lazy.