HANG by Foxygen
Genre: Psychedelic Pop, Baroque Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Follow The Leader,” ‘Avalon,” “America,” “Oh Lankershim,” “Trauma”
It would be difficult to convince someone that Foxygen is a duo. The sheer sonic space that avant-garde indie darlings Sam France and Jonathan Rado are able to fill on their recordings is deceiving. With this in mind, it’s unsurprising they had to expand their live roster (including 3 singer/backup dancers) in order to tour their most recent album, …AND STAR POWER; by the sound of their most recent LP, HANG, they won’t be going back. Foxygen doubles down on their fixation for orchestral instrumentation on their fourth studio album, and this time, it’s more dramatic than ever. France’s croon is theatrical, to the effect that his performance on this record inspires images of him passionately parading around a Broadway stage, under spotlights, backed by a versatile jazz band in full swing. That being said, the subtle pop sensibilities that Foxygen tend to gravitate towards have not completely been done away with.
The first track on the album, “Follow the Leader,” features contagious vocal melodies, carrying pure and uncontrived lyrics like, “Hey babe, you know it’s true / I’m in love with you.” Paired with expertly crafted backing vocals, strong brass lead, and lush string section, Foxygen’s first single sets a whimsical and playful tone for the rest of the album. This pattern is only further compounded upon after hearing “Avalon,” which is the first hint that this album might be a better fit for the stage — its jazzy swing and improvised scatting wouldn’t be out of place in a score for a musical number. Painting a good-timey picture of a fantastical “garden of love,” France commits to delivering unabashedly animated and corny hooks, such that said garden appears almost Seussian in imagination.
Foxygen does cheesy and catchy as well as Abba, with the compositional maturity of Elton John and the eccentricity of their God-given selves. While the aforementioned acts were capable of writing great songs, Foxygen has the edge of experimentation and nonconformity that pushes them outside of the territory of being musicians and into the realm of being magicians. Each passage comes across as a rich spectacle instead of another structured piece of a songwriting formula. This level of experimentation reaches its peak on one of the most exhilarating and dynamic tracks the album, “America.” A scathing criticism that couldn’t have been released at a more poignant time, “America” is a bittersweet and haunting ballad that slowly devolves into a manic instrumental break that flips between genres and tempos like some sort of frightening collage of emotion. Piano and harpsichord are juxtaposed by an intense and heavy polka thrashing that develops like a power struggle between good and evil. Tranquil interludes hold hands with impatient and heavy cacophonies in the most intentionally contrasting ways. Then, while the darkness swallows the rest of the track, Foxygen — on a dime — retreats into a blissfully naive and bouncing rag-time, as if they hadn’t just forced you to peer deep into your soul a few seconds prior. The piece bypasses all preconceived notions of formal song structure, and as a result, ends up traversing unknown and lost corners of music. On this track, emotions that had never been priorly paired are forced into a small space, and the feeling is oh so weird. It’s brilliant. Although one of the most ambitious tracks on the album and simply in recent memory, the risks this song takes certainly pay off.
“If you’re already there
Then you’re already dead
If you’re living in America, whoa
Our heroes are bred
They just got nothing to lose
Because they’re all living in America”
Given the strange heights reached on “America,” it’s impressive that Foxygen are able to continue to grow into more foreign territories throughout the album. Although the record only spans 32 minutes, Foxygen makes excellent and intentional use of every last second of sound that they include. “On Lankershim” is a bright release from the darkness achieved on “America” that eventually transitions into “Upon A Hill,” which is a song so peppy and carnival-esque that it literally ends in a hearty crescendo. It works, and there’s no good reason as to why.
The rest of the album follows suit, with uplifting moments of celebration on both “Trauma” and “Rise Up,” despite the inevitably cynical lyrics on the former. Actually, one of the most interesting aspects of this album is musical and lyrical juxtaposition, in which France opts for darker themes such as suicide or tragically dying love, but the music remains joyous and light. HANG is not only a huge step up from what was on their somewhat lackluster preceding album, …AND STAR POWER, but a mature evolution from their acclaimed WE ARE THE 21ST CENTURY AMBASSADORS OF PEACE & MAGIC. It is clear that while Foxygen will not shy away soon from their fanciful and light hearted side, they have developed a wise and realized dark side. And to be quite honest, HANG strikes a perfect balance between the two.