Foxygen — Hang (20 January 2017) ⦿ On their last album, Foxygen sounded like a band trying to survive. On their latest, they reach for the sky, making an audacious timpani crash of an album that satirizes its own grandiosity. © ⦿ Photo credit: Erina Uemura
Location: Westlake/Agoura ~~ New York, New York
Album release: 20 January 2017
Record Label: Jagjaguwar
01 Follow the Leader 4:13
02 Avalon 3:46
03 Mrs. Adams 4:29
04 America 5:19
05 On Lankershim 2:59
06 Upon a Hill 1:37
07 Trauma 4:45
08 Rise Up 5:10
By Evan Rytlewski, JANUARY 16 2017 / SCORE: 7.0
⦿ “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. Music came so effortlessly to the group, but the mechanics of simply being a band seemed beyond them. When the duo launched what they called their Farewell Tour in 2015, it wasn’t so much a fake~out or an in~joke as an acknowledgement of the possible: For a band like this, any tour could be a farewell tour. So what would their legacy be if one of those breakups had stuck? As well received as their breakthrough record We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic was at the time, would anybody remember it a decade later if that had been the end? All the goodwill in the world doesn’t buy a band much if they no longer exist.
⦿ Fascinatingly overstuffed and unscripted, …And Star Power in hindsight feels like a placeholder, the work of a band trying to survive long enough to make another one. For their extravagant follow~up, though, Foxygen set out to demonstrate just how much they’re capable of when they’re playing the long game. Recorded with a 40~some~piece orchestra and dubiously billed as the group’s “first proper studio album,” Hang is the kind of investment of time, money, and patience a band can only make if they intend to stick around for a while, an audacious timpani crash of an album that satirizes its own grandiosity in real time. Though France still sings in a kind of spin~the~wheel Jagger/Bowie/Reed impression, he and Jonathan Rado have dropped their usual grab~bag approach in favor of a more disciplined homage to the theatrical rock records of the late ‘70s, particularly the Broadway~adoring budget busters of Billy Joel, Elton John, and Meat Loaf. There’s a commitment to concept here rarely found outside of Destroyer albums.
⦿ Conducted and arranged by Trey Pollard with assists from indie~rock’s go~to maximalist Matthew E. White, the assembled big band isn’t just for show. It’s at the center of every track, from the sumptuous, Philly soul strings of the IMAX~sized opener “Follow The Leader” to the frolicsome brass of the Sunset Boulevard tribute “Avalon,” which culminates in a swinging hot jazz breakdown right out of The Muppet Show. The drummer takes an actual tap dance solo.
⦿ Hang hits peak artifice at its halfway point with “America,” a song as wide in scope as its title. Feeding off the faux~importance of its arrangement, France belts out a succession of clichés about dreams, patriotism, and heroism, and dusts off an old~fashioned critique of entertainment industry superficiality (“You only play yourself when you’re in Hollywood!”) Somehow the track isn’t even the album’s most elaborate parody of bygone songwriting conventions. That distinction goes to the mock magnum opus “Rise Up,” which opens with a command to “pull yourself up from the fires of hell” and “follow your own heart,” and concludes with the time~tested revelation that the thing “you’ve been searching all your life” — you probably know where this is going — “was with you all the time.”
⦿ The danger with any record this high concept is that it’ll be easier to admire than to enjoy, and Foxygen haven’t completely avoided that trap. Between its mammoth arrangements and France’s singing~in~the~shower gusto, Hang is sometimes just too much. Even though it’s barely a half hour long, it demands such constant attention that it can be hard to make it through the whole thing in a single sitting. And to the extent that the record is a joke, the sheer scale of the project makes Foxygen over~commit to it. By the album’s final stretch, when France sings about flamingos in two consecutive songs, the band seems to be itching for a change of pace, one of those sudden stylistic leaps that used to come one after another on their previous records.
⦿ Not coincidentally, then, the album’s most refreshing song is the one that most breaks form. With “On Lankershim,” the band takes a breezy detour into the well~groomed A.M. country of the ‘70s — for three easygoing, slightly out of place minutes they become the Eagles, at least until France adopts Jonathan Richman’s Hippie Johnny~despising drawl to sing about an actress friend of his (“You know, she says she can get me paaaaaaaarts.”) With Hang, Foxygen have proven their capacity for lavish spectacle, but they’re still at their best when they give themselves the freedom to roam. ⦿ http://pitchfork.com/
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⦿ Get a load of these guys. These two young guys in the corner booth of a small bar. Classy joint. Beautiful ugly woman sits at the taps. Frail handsome man with a rag mops around her drink. Collectin’ the dust. There are other people in the bar is what I’m saying but forget them we wanna focus on the men in the booth. There’s something about these two guys. Some sort of exotic mystique. They got an air of show business about em. Like talented actors. Like they’ve seen triumph and scandal and delirium. How old are they? Could be 37 year olds playing 25 year olds. Could be kids dressed as adults. All I know is these two young guys are lookin’ good and bored and ready for some kinda seismic activity.
⦿ The tall one name of ‘France’ gets up goes to the bathroom. Comes back with a condom from the machine. Stuffs it in his wallet where the other one used to be. He’s muttering his debut novella to Himself. The other one, all cheek bone structure and hair goes by ‘Rado.’ He’s tapping out a rhythm with chopsticks up against the table which he's muted with a napkin. Erratic thuds. Rado’s just now written an album in his mind and he’s ready for a milkshake. They’ve each got different hair styles. Different builds. Different ways. But they seem to move as a unit. Like a two legged dog attached to some kind of cart mechanism that follows the drifter around. Snarls when I try to pat it. They don’t seem dangerous but they could be the guys they were talking ab... out on the news. Is that why they turned the TV off when they came in? Bar tender didn’t bat an eyelid when the Rado one yanked the power chord out.
⦿ These guys are American that's for sure. West Coast Vampires. They’re in the entertainment business. Immigrant ancestors. Real mix of blood types. Gamblers and magnates and Hustlers and POWs. All distilling down to true lyrics and songs that matter in the San Fernando valley and every other place too. Real operators. Kinda guys that discover young talent and harvest it into superstar outfits. Kinda guys that assemble the most talented musicians they could find from LA to Long Island for things like exotic show band arrangements and ambient beauty. Real guys. Guys that make moves. From one place to another.
⦿ Besides, Foxygen was never just one band.
⦿ Foxygen is the Big Bang of two combusting minds. It’s the splayed Galaxy of polar geniuses Sam France and Jonathan Rado. It’s a handshake with a knife behind your back. A cosmic, Californian death~game of highway chicken. A sleepless night in a five star hotel. Truth or dare. Foxygen is the risk of pushing your best friend off the ledge just to see if they can fly. You listen to this album properly. You take in each moment. Each new melody that threads forward from the fingertips of one of this generation’s finest piano men in Jonathan Rado. And you fall in line behind Sam France’s sprawling and reckless lyric. Witness his mastery. Feel them struggle against the walls of their own creations. Follow them there. To the perimeter. To the exit sign. And let your eyes fog up with thoughts like ‘For at least this moment I understand how cold blooded and beautiful I am.’ Notice that the two young guys aren’t there anymore. They’re outside looking for another joint to haunt. They’re already out of sight.
⦿ And now you’re on a train. Facing the wrong way so the trees are passing in front of you. And you’re looking forward but everything is getting further away. These nowhere towns somehow sound good. Like the city is heavy, but out here we float a little bit. America is too big of a boat to sink. Don’t sink baby. Hang.
FACTS ABOUT HANG
⦿ Hang is Foxygen’s first proper studio record, recorded in Los Angeles, CA at Electro Vox Studios.
⦿ Hang was written and produced entirely by Foxygen
⦿ Hang features Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips, as well as Brian D’Addario and Michael D’Addario of the Lemon Twigs as players on the record.
⦿ Hang features a 40+ piece symphony orchestra on every track. Trey Pollard from Spacebomb arranged and conducted the orchestral parts, with additional arranging from Matthew E. White.
⦿ No computers were used in the process of making Hang. It was recorded & mixed entirely on 2” tape and the vinyl lacquers were cut directly from master tapes. © ⦿ 2/22 Amsterdam, NL Paradiso Amsterdam