Quite a few new reviews are out now that the new album has officially been released, and they continue the divisive trend. Here’s another roundup:
LAST YEAR’S REPORTS that tensions between Foxygen frontman Sam France and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rado were splitting their band apart appear to have come to nothing. If anything, their third album seems like a heavy act of commitment, a renewal of musical vows: …And Star Power is a double album in four sections (including a “suite” and a “Paranoid Side“), all bound together with a ribbon of (very) high-concept fun. Rambling between the clammy psychedelic blandishments of MGMT and the wild-eyed excesses of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, it’s full of turn-ons and freak-outs, pastiche and peculiarity.
Taking off with Star Power Airlines, the view from Foxygen’s A380 is astonishing as we drift through the perfectly-formed clouds of fluffy retro pop that’s all groovy psychedelic. While How Can You Really is an irresistible pop nugget with big hooks that’s hard to beat, tracks like Coulda Been My Love and You And I offer sweet dreamy vibes that feel like post-Beatles Lennon and very mellow Stones. Imperfectly lo-fi, these tunes radiate a luscious irresistible warmth that stylistically slips somewhere between the ‘60s and the ‘70s.
Foxygen’s experimentalism is a strong component of the album. Vague, inarticulate, boyish screams in the background add an edgy atmosphere to tracks like “Freedom II.” At times, the dynamic chord progression quickly falls apart into slow, pared-to-the-bone guitar solos. Foxygen subverts many expectations of listeners by simply playing what they want and avoiding conventions. This can make the album frustrating to listen to, but it is a fresh change from albums that are too polished.
“…And Star Power” is a continuation of Foxygen’s method: artfully constructed songs that aim to both remind people of an earlier time yet also challenge the genre through experimentation. Mostly, this technique gels well with the lyrics, melodies, and moments of unconventional riffing. Foxygen deftly creates a sound world rooted in the feel-good tradition of psychedelic rock without sacrificing their sense of innovation.
For those not familiar with Foxygen, this album may come as a sensory overload. This band is especially known for having an erratic sound, but if you listen closely, it’s more like organized chaos.
These rowdy musicians aren’t just reckless — they’re intentional. The faded synthesized sound, ostentatious song titles and unique use of spoken vocals in the intros and backgrounds of songs creates the perfect canvas for all of their wildest experiments.
The great thing about 81 minutes worth of music means that we get just that much more genius and creativity from the band. Is it too much? Not at all. There’s something for everyone to like on this album, whether you’re a die-hard Foxygen lover or you’re just looking for a new song to get you across campus.
The songs themselves can’t even settle into one mood or genre. “Cosmic Vibrations” launches with fifteen seconds of maniacal, pounding, motorik Krautrock, only to jump ship into glum, Syd Barrett-style freak folk for a few minutes and close with a triumphant ramp that could have been from the Hair soundtrack. On the four-song “Star Power” suite, arguably the album’s centerpiece, the band gestures towards the medieval mythos of early heavy metal; the weirdo-lounge of early Residents; the thundering protopunk of Death; and Exile on Main St.-style honky-tonk recklessness. But these songs don’t descend into pointless genre-parody and they certainly don’t suffer from a lack of original ideas. Like The Mothers of Invention before them, Foxygen manage to balance out their sense of humor and impulse towards chaos with genuinely catchy pop melodies.
What separates this album from the onslaught of stoned and chaotic garage rock records we’ve seen picking the tie-dyed bones of Nuggets over the last few years? I think it comes down to this: …And Star Power isn’t lazy. Foxygen don’t make discombobulated psych rock because they don’t have the facility to write a coherent pop song. They don’t run out of ideas and they rarely repeat themselves. If the legions of young, hip twentysomethings wearing Burger Records patches on their jean jackets and wielding Rickenbackers at basement shows all sounded as legitimately psychotic as Foxygen, I’d have a lot more hope for the future of rock ‘n’ roll.
What did Foxygen do next? Well, they wrote a 24-song, 82-minute opus that makes MGMT’s infamously impenetrable second album ‘Congratualtions’ sound like a paragon of all-killer-no-filler professionalism. Obviously. Sloppy and schizophrenic, ‘…And Star Power’ is the sound of record-collection rock having a nervous breakdown.
It’s a shame, because for about 20 minutes it splits the difference between inspired and indulgent, suggesting Foxygen might have it in them to make a great double album.
If an artist doesn’t have enough viable material to sustain a single album, it’s surely folly to try to release a double, regardless of the virtues of the underlying conceit. Yet that’s the blunder the Californian duo Foxygen make on their third album, as they ramble across four conceptually vague song suites. Touches of underwhelming psych-folk, jarring fairground music and abrasive garage rock are blended with their soft-rock stylings, but an 82-minute running time stretches the charm very thinly. There are moments when they stumble across something that works, but you suspect that’s more a result of monkeys/typewriters/Shakespeare syndrome than anything more profound. A victory for self-indulgence over quality control.
Most frustratingly, there are enough chunks of quality here — “Mattress Warehouse,” “Flowers,” “Everyone Needs Love” — to still make you drool. A better option, though, is to go a la carte. It’ll save you time, and it’ll stave off the bitter taste of what could have been.
You have to wonder if this is not exactly what the band was going for. Many of these songs—particularly the demented Sesame Street rhymes of “666” and the entirety of the last side of the second disc—sound like demos, due in part to the sound (Foxygen shunned the studio in lieu of going back to the garage to record), but mostly because many of the songs have the imbalanced weight of quickly drafted sketches. This lends it an off-the-cuff charm in the right light, but it can come off as just lazy if you aren’t in the mood.
Most won’t care either way. “…And Star Power” is a confounding listen compared to Foxygen’s debut. On its predecessor’s standard of success, it’s a let down. Then again, there’s a lingering feeling that this is nowhere close to the idea Foxygen strives for the album to be. But there’s an even stronger sense that even they aren’t really sure exactly what that is.
…And Star Power certainly disintegrates, but at a much faster clip than Rado and France originally imagined. Are there any differences between tracks like “Can’t Contextualize My Mind” and “Brooklyn Police Station” or “I Don’t Have Anything/The Gate” and “Everyone Hang On”? On a technical level the answer is yes, but over the course of listening to Star Power they all merge together, with no distinguishing features or uniquely recognizable moments. The conceptual underpinnings seem intriguing, but there is just no trace of them in the music: “Cannibal Holocaust,” for example, plays a meandering keyboard rhythm over the reverbed, repeated vocals, “Stop telling lies.” “Coulda Been My Love” is a psych-pop track ostensibly about a lost love, but features lyrics like “You can do what you want/ It’s just what we do,” sung with so little feeling it sounds like France is singing to a picture of a picture of a picture that he bought at a thrift shop.
The first quarter of the album has the most shadows of what made the band stand out initially. Even the sometimes annoying ambling of “Star Power Suite” eventually coagulates into an anthemic high point with “What Are We Good For,” its third and most songlike movement. Shortly afterwards, however, the album gives in to its overstuffed impulses, offering up half-baked songs, formless jamming, tweaky punk interludes, and what amounts to nearly an hour of trying to separate the muddy filler from anything even remotely inspired. With its few gems often separated by long stretches of queasy, confusing tracks, almost half of the album could have easily been left on the cutting-room floor. That might be the point. The unedited flailing, strung-out production, and half-asleep vibe that permeates much of …And Star Power is no doubt intentional, and works sometimes. Foxygen‘s meticulous attention to detail is one of the best aspects of their sound, and even when they’re burying decent ideas beneath demo-quality performances on songs like “Cannibal Holocaust” and “Everyone Needs Love,” it’s clear they’re making exactly the album they set out to.