WRITTEN BY: PAUL BURKE
After much internal drama and a presumed farewell tour in May 2015, Foxygen hid from the spotlight for quite a while. The tour followed the band’s 2014 release “…And Star Power,” an album which not only turned over a new leaf for the band, but also turned the heads of many fans and critics. Foxygen was extremely unhinged on this project, taking a bit of an anything goes approach. The chaotic 24-track, 80-minute epic featured extremely muddy, distorted production, with tape buzz and ambient noise blaring throughout the whole record. It seemed quite rushed, as if they had just thrown together a random assortment of songs without the intention of producing a cohesive album. The antics of “…And Star Power” came as a huge surprise, considering how strong their previous two releases had been.
Years later, the duo is now back and better than ever. In an interview from December 2016, core members Jonathan Rado and Sam France revealed that everything they have released through “Hang” has been planned since before their commercial debut, “Take the Kids Off Broadway,” over four years ago. Rado also mentioned that he had written the piano parts for the majority of “Hang” in one night back in 2012, envisioned in a grandiose, orchestral arrangement. Sure enough, when these tracks – along with the rest of the album – resurfaced at the beginning of the month, the duo was accompanied by a full 40-piece orchestra.
Right off the bat, “Hang” is upbeat and thrilling. The album’s opener, “Follow the Leader,” is carried by playful piano and a groovy bass line during the verses, before it pours into a beautiful chorus backed by a pairing of strings and horns. Sam France delivers the message to be yourself as he sings, “follow the leader, and the leader is you,” over an infectious vocal melody. There’s no better way to describe this song besides the fact that it is extremely fun and well-written. As cheesy as it sounds, I can’t listen to this song without having the urge to get up and dance.
Next on the track list is “Avalon,” which sounds as if it had been stripped directly from the soundtrack of a Broadway musical. The beginning portion features a whimsical piano lead, with brief harp fills, spurts of horns, and crashes of auxiliary percussion. These minor background theatrics matched with high-pitched female backing vocals give it an extra lighthearted, even comical feel, solidifying it as a true show-tune style track.
The greatest highlight of the record comes in at the fourth spot on the track list. “America” is the most well written, complex, and musically impressive cut from Foxygen’s new record. The 40-piece orchestra is fully utilized in this song, giving each instrument section a very strong presence. The verse features a somber string progression and slowly builds before it erupts into a full-fledged rock opera with blaring horns and explosive timpani strikes. The track then takes a full 180 during a section of call and response from the pianos and keyboards to the rest of the band, incorporating elements of jazz and baroque pop. The song then transitions back to its previously pompous form, where France delivers his politically charged, satirical lyrics: “Our heroes aren’t brave, they just got nothing to lose, cause they’re all livin’ in America.” The track then closes out by making a surprising yet familiar jump into another jazz interlude. A series of quick rhythmic changes and stylistic blends featured on “America” make it the group’s most extravagant, skillful track to date.
The album of course finishes in grand fashion, featuring more dense instrumentation and yet another set of inspiring lyrics from Sam France. He sings, “It’s time to wake up early, start taking care of your health, and start doing all the hard things, and believe in yourself,” on the appropriately named closer, “Rise Up.”
All of Foxygen’s past influences from the ‘60s & ‘70s, such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, David Bowie, Velvet Underground, and most of all, The Rolling Stones, are still clearly present throughout the entirety of “Hang.” Along with the addition of some heavy inspiration from the show tune style, a few new influences appear on this record, including a bit of Motown on “Follow the Leader,” and a country-pop, Fleetwood Mac vibe on “On Lankershim.”
Overall, the duo came through with an excellent return to the indie rock scene, and produced an incredibly bold, energetic record, proving that they are willing to take risks while also displaying their true musical ability.
Foxygen returns to Philadelphia on Sunday, March 26th, at Union Transfer. Listen to “Hang,” along with the group’s full discography, on Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp, and various other streaming platforms.