Here’s another roundup of recent reviews of “…And Star Power.”
Sam France and Jonathan Rado have the type of musical partnership that’s so chemically reactive, it’s tough to say exactly how they should manage it: Are they more impressive when they whittle and polish their spitballs into structured songs and “pop,” or when they don’t? Last year, it wasn’t entirely clear that their breakout album, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, was a product of the former, but it’s clear now. Its successor, the 24-song double LP …And Star Power, is a spitball mural that stretches a full city block, comprised of long swaths of barely revised jams littered intermittently with tiny bombshells of truly gifted songwriting. Juxtaposed with Peace and Magic, Foxygen’s third album provides the evidence to decide for yourself.
Star Power overwhelms with its personality, one that takes on a wildly different but equally zealous form every three minutes, one that’s exciting for a long while before suddenly making you want to shelve it for a longer while. At the same time, it’s not hard to picture Star Power ending up the kind of album that’s more clearly impressive in 10 years than it is today. Should Foxygen actually be at the start of a long and hyper-fruitful career, this album could retrospectively reveal itself a critical step and deceptively rich in its nonsense. In the meantime, it’s a thrilling if uneven ride.
If I was to describe what Foxygen sounds like, I would say that they sound like The Misfits dropped acid and resurrected John Lennon while asking Sgt. Pepper to come play with them. I may even go as far as to say that they sound like what pop punk maybe have sounded like if it existed in the ’70s, and then I’d leave it at that while proceeding to find a way to escape the psychedelic madness that is …And Star Power. Unfortunately I have a word limit to abide by, and am going to have to delve even further into the chaos that is …And Star Power.
Where do I start with this album? It is probably the most haphazard and chaotically beautiful thing I have heard this year. If indie had a sub-genre similar to progressive metal then Foxygen would rule that sub-genre with an iron fist, or about as violent a grip that a dreamy mash-up of horror punk and ’90s stoner rock could produce. Most bands tend to stick to one particular sound for an album, while Foxygen go through sounds faster than a teenager goes through ideologies.
Instrumentally, the band has come together in a more impressive fashion. You could pick apart the songs and find the older bands that are being emulated, but it is nowhere near as obvious as it was on 21st Century, or even Broadway. Singles like “How Can You Really” and “Cosmic Vibrations” are the most obvious showcases of different generations of rock being mixed to create what truly sounds like a new type of sound. Even Sam France’s vocals sound more like his own personal style, rather than his channeling of Mick Jagger and Lou Reed, although there is still plenty of that.
Returning to a tack they’d previously embraced before achieving a measure of critical success, … And Star Power reorients Foxygen’s trajectory, without any regard for making a “follow-up.” In hindsight, 2011’s Take The Kids Off Broadway EP and 2013’s We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic were – in Star Power’s wake – outliers within their discography.
Those two albums, by turns invigorating and confounding, were the most polished works Foxygen had released to date. They were, however, not debut albums. From 2005-2011, Foxygen made several EPs and at least one “album,” — only no one heard them. Kill Art and Ghettoplastikk are twenty-odd minute journeys through two teenage boys discovering themselves and their sound. They feature as many great, catchy tracks as they do maddening ones, and display an emerging confidence in their studio weirdness. “Jurrassic Exxplosion Philippic” is a 30-song “opera” that’s light on song length and lighter on concentration, but flashes a progressing prodigy. An EP in 2011, and various other tracks (and untold more stowed away on external hard drives) also punctuate what amounts to ten years of output.
… And Star Power is not “new,” but it is a step forward in Foxygen’s self-determined progression. It’s much more amusing to simply be at peace with the fact that Foxygen completely eschews our normal, boring 3-minutes-is-a-song world than to get ticked off for not getting a record full of “hits.” As demonstrated by adding of twenty-four new tracks into an already robust catalog, Foxygen keeps saying: don’t play anything after it stops feeling good. Move on. Next.
With …And Star Power, the crazy pair have crafted a record that works better as a mood piece than it does as active listening. But it is instantly transporting, no doubt. It’s the zany, zoony soundtrack to a film from 1969 that never existed, the crazy sonic ramblings of a bunch of wide-eared kids with eyes too big for their stomachs. It’s imperfect and overzealous and hopelessly indulgent, but that still doesn’t mean it’s not one hell of a trip. There’s no doubt about that.
In accordance with that style, ...And Star Power reminds the listener of the organization of an album like Pink Floyd’s The Wall. No one is going to listen to “Outside The Wall” on its own, yet The Wall is still considered a great album.
Similarly, a few songs off …And Star Power aren’t particularly appealing when listened to individually, but then again, they aren’t supposed to be. Foxygen takes us on a musical odyssey that can still be contemplated days after listening.
What really differentiates …And Star Power is that rather than being a bunch of songs on the same album, this is a story, a work of art. Sure, side three has a few songs that remind you of a bad acid trip from a Hunter S. Thompson novel, but again, that’s sort of the point. All books, movies, and stories, will go through different phases. These aren’t just individual songs you can pick and choose from the iTunes store. This is a carefully crafted narrative.
Despite a strong start that promised a double-album worth 82 minutes, Foxygen couldn’t keep it up. Unfortunately, the album descends into madness as the songs go by, tossing you down a psychedelic rabbit hole of clashing melodies and indecipherable lyrics. The nostalgia is cut with clumsy fuzz and flat stretches of record where you’re left listening to a directionless effort. Even calling it effort seems unjustified. As a band that adopts a hipster persona—disapproving of modern rock and making videos that look like Wes Anderson movies—it truly feels like there are times on the album when France and Jonathan Rado seem indifferent to the final product.
As an editorial aside, I do have to take issue with this sentence from the above review: “In the middle of the album, the three song stretch of “Mattress Warehouse,” “666” and “Flowers” is cotton dry and unoriginal.” If you were trying to critique a 3-strong stretch as dry and unoriginal, seems like that is the worst possible example on the album to use to make that point.
And King Tuff has by far the most unique review of the album — a review that Rado enjoyed:
the @KINGTUFFY review of star power is the best review i’ve read of anything ever.
— Jonathan Rado (@JonathanRado) October 17, 2014
Ahh yes, the Foxywoxies have really done something this time. …And Star Power is the sonically demented twin of last year’s breakthrough, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, a black magick sheep who can barely talk and just makes wicked sweet grunting noises when you tell it you love it. This album is a perverted shit-demon with Hollywood sunglasses constantly fucking the line between perfect pop and an amateur teenage punk jam session, a through-composed mountain of ideas that will delight the freaks and send the squares shitting and running. Salty black sprinkles of soft Satan glimmer all over it.