Reviews are coming in a bit too frequently these days to do standalone posts for all of them, so here’s the first of what will likely be several review roundups, this one covering the past week or so.
All the warbled tape feedback, two-minute instrumental suites and general horseplay of Star Power will test the patience of those more prone to the polished “San Francisco” and “Shuggie” side of Foxygen, but between the psychedelic sound collages are some moments that really sparkle. Take the verses of “Star Power III: What Are We Good For” when France recites deadpan poetry in the style of a stony Lou Reed, or in the celebratory chorus of “Brooklyn Police Station.”
It’s not as immediately rewarding as Ambassadors, and at times can feel a bit self-indulgent. But it’s hard to fault them, because listening to Star Power gives you the sense that they accomplished exactly what they set out to do: reconnect with the sense of play and reckless curiosity they had when they were teenagers in the garage, messing around with a 4-track and trying to make each other laugh.
If nothing else, this album knows what it is. A paean to musical over-indulgence that celebrates excess and oddity with little regard for what might be expected or even appreciated. That’s not to say, however, that anyone else will know what this album is.
Often when I’m writing about music, I’ll go track-by-track and try to interpret how the lyrics of the songs and the pacing of an album adds up to some sort of thematic whole. I think that this is, largely, not very necessary here. If there’s any sort of message to be divined from ...And Star Power, I expect it’s in the sound and the presentation. (Also, I have a day job, but if anyone wants to comb through the lyrics of these 24 songs and decipher any kind of “story” being told here, by all means.)
Aside from Death Grips, Foxygen are the only band in recent memory that maintains the wistful insanity that their psychedelic and glam forebearers established their reputations on. Their unpredictableness has seen them wilding out at shows, accosting audience members, and nearly breaking up (at least according to singer Sam France’s girlfriend), but they’re still here, and still being very weird. Their new record, the double-LP …And Star Power is a cosmic hot mess that could only be made by a band with no qualms about commercial success. Beautiful moments of psych pop sit next to sporadic freakouts, and queasy rockers morph into soaring anthems at the drop of a hat.
The rambunctious spirit of the group is all well and good, but while the band is trying to give off the impression of a catch-all free-for-all like the White Album or Exile on Main Street, what comes off instead is more like an overly long Their Satanic Majesties Request, an album just as known for its shimmering moments, as its excessive, half-baked noodling.
I think what I’m going to try to do here is save some listeners a little time. I listened to this whole album all the way through twice, and honestly, afterwards, felt violated in some way. Getting right down to it, …And Star Power is 82 minutes of disjointed, mind-boggling clips of noise that can piss you off at times. But please don’t get me wrong, there are some great songs hidden in there. The problem is that the good ones are surrounded by all-too-avant-garde, demo-like bits of music that amount to very little.
Wrapped in a bizarre sonic metanarrative about Foxygen joining and subsequently being taken over by a punk collective, the record highlights a true descent into overindulgent madness, but not before demonstrating a talented band crafting great tunes. The opening stretch from “How Can You Really” to “You & I” is wholly excellent, along with standout “What Are We Good For,” thanks to a chorus of female backup vocalists, Jonathan Rado’s punchy keyboards, daubs of soul, France’s laidback, flowerchild vocals and a scant layer of warm analog fuzz. Beautifully wistful folk rocker “I Don’t Have Anything/The Gate” and slick, jangling piano rocker “Cannibal Holocaust” round out the first LP with style and versatility, and a great album composed mostly of fantastic tracks, with a wee bit of comparative filler, could have ended there.
Unfortunately, the second disc, when the punk collective takes over the band, is where the album completely falls apart.
All of which helps make … And Star Power, at an overstuffed and at times seemingly unedited 82 minutes, feel like a throwback in every way. For all its title’s talk of star power, the real subject here is excess in all its forms: the unhinged vocal performances, the worship of ’70s power pop, the way experiments are both embraced and quickly, unceremoniously discarded. Renowned for its shambolic early live shows, Foxygen’s Sam France and Jonathan Rado know how to keep one foot on each side of the line separating barely contained genius from undisciplined indulgence.
Still, Foxygen doesn’t squander its gift for impeccable, vintage-sounding Technicolor studio pop: For all their shagginess, “How Can You Really,” “Star Power III: What Are We Good For” and others hit giddy, playful highs. But on …And Star Power, Foxygen mostly exhibits self-control as a means of demonstrating a willingness to loosen its grip. The result cracks open a fire hydrant of ideas meant to tantalize and frustrate, dazzle and baffle. Mission accomplished, all at once.
Few modern projects culminated from rock ‘n’ roll’s roots sound as immediate as Foxygen’s fourth studio album, “…And Star Power.” Clocking in at an ambitious 80 minutes, it laments the band as a prominent garage rock act like The White Stripes’ and MGMT’s breakthrough albums did years prior.
“…And Star Power” exhibits no direction and never hints at what comes next on its ever-shifting track list. The intro, “Star Power Airlines,” and its Jack White-esque, precision-pumped chords should send the album into a more psychedelic ode to punk rock.
But it doesn’t. And “How Can You Really,” the project’s second track and first single, pushes the concept of rock as an all-encompassing genre to levels unheard since Jagger and The Rolling Stones.
Despite all of these frustrations there are moments of genius, moments found when the band reaches beyond the strictures and structures of their forebears and cuts loose with beautiful racket. Just listen to the cacophony of “Cold Winter/Freedom,” a mlange of noises loud and quiet, tones low and high, so ramped up with feedback and distortion that for a second it sounds like the band is picking up where Sun 0)))) left off and is actually moving a whole style of music forward. “Wally’s Farm” plays with a different kind of noise, generated by psychedelic, dubby twists and turns on the organ and the trumpet; it’s a fantastic bit of nonsense that somehow slipped off of a future Hirokazu Tanka soundtrack. No, neither track is suis generis, but they demonstrate that Foxygen have the potential to build off of other musical styles rather than wallow in them.