It’s been a strange ride for Foxygen. The Californian duo made humorous, uncanny psychedelic pop waves with ‘Take the Kids Off Broadway’ and its magnificent follow-up ‘We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic’. Said ‘60s pop revitalisations, alongside frivolous, amped-up live shows have given Sam France and Jonathan Rado a well-earned authenticity seal of approval, but 2014’s ‘…And Star Power’ saw the duo run into a lamppost of ill-advised druggy-hedonism and subsequent critical disapproval.
Whatever pseudo-unique avant-garde Foxygen were cradling previously has seemingly been swept under the rug with ‘Hang’, an album that feels more absentminded and natural than the try-hard, “let’s make our own weird collection of Velvet Underground studio outtakes” feel of ‘…And Star Power’. It’s refreshing to see a band go back to a style that garnered such fandom in the first place, especially a band such with brashness as Foxygen. Still, that’s not to say things are exactly how they were four years ago, and to say Foxygen have a set ‘style’ would be a bit of an insult.
[contentblock id=141 img=adsense.png]
‘Follow the Leader’ sees the band go for a glamorous, ‘60s reboot that wouldn’t seem out of place on friend/collaborator Diane Coffee’s 2015 album ‘Everybody’s a Good Dog’. Songs like ‘Avalon’, ‘America’ and ‘Upon a Hill’ see the arrangements switch from music hall to chamber pop to baroque pop to jazz as quickly as you can say “Merry Christmas from the pines”. If you thought those arrangements were larger than life, the two concluding songs ‘Trauma’ and ‘Rise Up’ have crumbling, almighty orchestral sections that tower alongside Sam France’s throaty weeps. A 40-piece orchestra was utilised throughout the bulk of the album, adding colour when needed.
The style of production compliments the barrage of old-fashioned stylistic quirks, with the music sounding like it could be plucked right out of a ‘60s record, for the most part anyway. The mixing is rich and rewarding, a big step up from ‘…And Star Power’, which was the first album to be produced entirely by France and Rado, with ‘Hang’ being the superior second.
Despite the natural feeling a good deal of ‘Hang’ has, it’d be easy to see a few bits and pieces become regarded as ‘gimmicky’ and one big homage hotchpotch as opposed to ‘We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic’, which felt more like a young, realistic band. Some of the vocal takes are so animated that they may come across as a self-parody, particularly on ‘Mrs. Adams’ and ‘Rise Up’, but even if they are, they’re invitingly ambitious. Luckily, the album avoids hitting the ‘so hip, so sparkly’ brick wall that the Flaming Lips have recently built for themselves, which is a relief as the Lips did contribute to this album.
‘Hang’ is an incredibly optimistic album, one that runs on diggable campiness and flower power. It’s almost hilariously old-fashioned, but it’s adventurous enough to feel like something brand new. Oxygen has been returned to Foxygen.