Release Date: Jan 22, 2013
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Indie Pop, Neo-Psychedelia, Indie Folk
With their album-length 2012 EP Take the Kids Off Broadway, backwards-looking concept rockers Foxygen arrived with so many classic rock reference points you could have made a bingo card out of the various nods to various heroes contained in their still somehow undeniably hooky songs. Proper full-length We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic is even more stuffed full of familiar sound cues and convincing '60s and '70s pop star mimicry, this time with heightened production from Richard Swift taking the album out of the lo-fi realm, and more personal lyrics adding some character to the artifice. Picking apart the blatant, intentional references to different classic songs that cycle verse-to-verse throughout the album is a fun game for record collector types; from the nod to the intro of Sgt.
FoxygenWe Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic[Jagjaguwar; 2013]By Will Ryan; January 18, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGFoxygen landed in the middle of last year with the homemade-artworked Take The Kids Off Broadway on Jagjaguwar. The EP's laser-accurate mixture of classic rock royalty acts like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, David Bowie--the type of groups almost too ingrained with rock mythos and general temporal re-appropriation to even bother acknowledging--with an elastic and irreverent sense of songwriting that might've, under pressure, qualified as outright weirdness was attention-grabbing to be sure, but the young duo of Sam France and Johnathan Rado had crafted (or at least alluded to) something more genuine and exciting than even they seemed to know how to vocalize. 'Outsider' and 'weirdo' are terms often hidden behind--sometimes stapled to the nebulousness of "pop"--as a means to cloak amateurishness and basic songcraft shortcomings.
Before you play a note, your band begins as a series of decisions: Which bands inspire us? Who do we want to sound like? What are we going to call ourselves? These early triangulations often lead to everything else falling into place: bass lines, vocal affectations, guitar tones, production, album-art style. They say a lot about the band you intend to become. Sam France and Jonathan Rado, a duo from L.A., decided at some point that they would be called Foxygen.
Sam France and Jonathan Rado—the youthful pair spearheading the Los Angeles band Foxygen—sound like they’re raiding your hip uncle’s record collection. Their deep knowledge of ’60s and ’70s rock tropes was made manifest on their 2012 exuberant, self-recorded EP Take the Kids Off Broadway. Their Richard Swift–produced debut album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is a quantum leap for the group in terms of reinvention and nostalgia-infused songcraft.
The sooner you fumble your way through the unruly title of Foxygen’s latest LP, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, the sooner you can get to the music, which is quite the opposite—immediately familiar and relatively easy to navigate. That’s not to say Foxygen’s generous winks and nods to The Beatles and The Zombies and Bob Dylan and Lou Reed and David Bowie (… and I can go on) don’t make for an engaging spin on the past. Members Jonathan Rado and Sam France do so with the necessary confidence and personality, and the right amount of TLC.
It should be telling that Foxygen vocalist Sam France shouting "Freak out!" near the end of "Oh Yeah" is immediately followed by one of the most instrumentally beautiful moments on We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic. Given the band's tripped-out track record, such exclamations would be taken wisely to signify impending sonic carnage, but Foxygen have (somewhat) reigned in their shape-shifting psychedelic sound, using a tighter mix to give more credence to the lyrics and actually following conventional song structures more often than they did on their 2011 debut. There is still a lot of nuance to these tracks, though.
“Foxygen is Sam France, Rado and whoever the fuck else we think is glamorous,” reads the New Yorkers’ Facebook blurb. Now, it might seem slightly silly to reference the social media page of a band who deliberately drench themselves in ’60s mysticism, but from these 14 words you can get a pretty good sense of what they’re all about. Sure, there’s an element of humour here – hell, you’d have to be the most intolerable twats on Earth to call your album ‘We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic’ without having a slight twinkle in your eye – but this band are no joke.
Sam France and Jonathan Rado—the young duo behind Foxygen—have a wealth of ideas running through their heads, and probably two sweet-ass record collections. This was evident in the twists and leaps of their all-over-the-map Take the Kids Off Broadway EP, which not only changed styles and genres across its seven tracks, but regularly did so mid-song. When they spoke to Under the Radar last summer, Rado admitted to having several records in the works, including this one, which he described as "sort of like a Kinks record that never came out," and at certain points, that influence is clear.
Foxygen are the LA duo Sam Fance and Jonathon Rado, who met a decade ago at school. During these early days they started recording their wacky jams, which has apparently added up to 12 albums’ worth of material. A project that could have easily become lost in the past remained in sharp focus for Sam and Jonathon as they gifted Shins member Richard Swift a demo at New York’s Mercury Lounge.
If you’re looking for trailblazin’ originality, intellectual innovation, visionaries and pioneers spiking their flags triumphantly aloft some strange new musical world… well, then you’d best trot on as there’s nowt for you here. Foxygen’s We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (cough) is the sound of two cheeky musical magpies feverishly and irreverently raiding your folks’ loft, causing a right ruckus, without the slightest concern for your ‘rules and regulations’ “Daddio”. Such pick-pocketing deviancy would usually earn such rapscallions a five-to-ten stretch at Her Majesty’s Pleasure were it not for the fact that their shenanigans have delivered such a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed bundle of goofy merriment.
In May 2011, musicians Jonathan Rado and Sam France ventured to a club in New York’s Lower East Side to watch singer-songwriter Richard Swift perform. After the show, Rado and France — known collectively as Foxygen — handed Swift a copy of their homemade album, Take the Kids Off Broadway, which they'd mixed and burned that same night. As the story goes, Swift liked the recording so much that he began recording with Foxygen eight months later.
It is a time where the single is king and albums are far and few between – just think, we’ve only actually had two albums from Lady Gaga since she was trebucheted down our throats clad in pretense and wigs in 2008, but, from those, she’s released ten singles (not including those from her lengthy Fame Monster EP). So then, how is it that Foxygen have had two records since July 2012? The Californian duo have been churning out EPs together since their inception in 2005, paying homage to their favourite acts of the ’60s and ’70s and carving their own niche of indie-glam. Yes, nostalgia is very in right now, and people love remembering their sepia-toned youth/pretending they remember the ’80s, but sometimes Foxygen sound rather too much like they’re doing covers of their Dads’ collection of dusty LPs.
MGMT were the last fresh-faced US duo to resurrect the groovy patchwork of the past in a thoroughly 21st-century way. Foxygen – longtime buddies Sam France and Jonathan Rado – have pulled that trick off again, only with a superior skill set. As this bold magpie of an album flies past, its swagger falters occasionally as genre pastiches gain the upper hand.
Foxygen’s Sam France and Jonathan Rado are friends who hang out (get high) and jam together. In 2011, they four-tracked some unfinished ditties, and rather than fleshing them out, spliced their fractured ideas together into Take the Kids Off Broadway. Released last year as Foxygen’s debut LP, it’s a mashup of stoned-in-the-bedroom tomfoolery. That was then.
Just contextualizing Foxygen is a feat in and of itself. They sound like a handful of different classic rock bands depending on which song you are listening to, from the Beatles to the Stones to the Velvet Underground, and the list of influences grows more and more when you hear the duo sing, I left my love in San Francisco, referencing the Tony Bennett signature. But then they turn it into a joke with no target when the call-back is: That’s okay, I was born in L.A.
It’s become an increasingly familiar ritual – an annual two-week stretch in December when every music fan scrolls through endless lists, write-ups, and Spotify playlists of the year’s best albums, playing catch-up with the records they missed or never got around to. At first it’s fun, but at some point it becomes a daunting task to replay the alt-J album as many times possible until it finally grows on you. Fortunately, We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic can give us all reason to stop catching up with last year’s music and focus on the here and now of 2013.
Foxygen duo Sam France and Jonathan Rado are characters steeped in rock ‘n roll’s long-standing tradition. They’re in thrall of it in its purest form and all the possibilities it entails. Having been making music together since high school, they hooked up with esteemed US producer Richard Swift and decamped to his Californian studio to record this first album proper, the grandly titled ‘We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic’.
Their influences are old, but the Californian duo’s enthusiasm shines through. Mike Haydock 2013 Foxygen’s influences are rooted in the past. They love The Kinks, The Rolling Stones and The Velvet Underground, bands that were in their pomp before Foxygen’s members – Sam France and Jonathan Rado – were even born. It’s difficult to understand this nostalgia for a past that was never real for Sam and Jonathan, yet we can’t condemn them for it.
The parents of San Franciscans Foxygen must have cut class the day they had to choose between the Beatles and Stones. Their offspring never learned the difference. Jonathan Rado and Sam France mesh Sgt. Pepper with the Rolling Stones' Aftermath on sophomore LP We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, which picks up where former Daniel Johnston backers Hymns left off.
When Smash Hits interviewed Mick Jagger in February 1985, the hugely successful pop mag headlined the article thus: "Mick Jagger: If You Don't Know Who This Bloke Is, Ask Your Parents…" The subhead continues, "But isn't he over the hill? And does he know anything about modern music? And what's he like anyway?" It seems inconceivable now that any teenager would be anything but fully informed as to exactly who Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones are. In recent years, the narrative that the 60s were the Triumph And Pinnacle Of Western Musical Invention has been rammed down our throats by the baby boomers who stole our jobs and our houses. Still the great arse of that decade, bloated by endlessly repeated yarn and myth, suffocates us all.