Vertical cell phone video and the sound distorts every time the bass drum hits, but still the first live version I’ve come across of Everyone Needs Love from the new album:
Vertical cell phone video and the sound distorts every time the bass drum hits, but still the first live version I’ve come across of Everyone Needs Love from the new album:
Where Jonathan Rado bought his first guitar and jammed to Blink 182:
Actually, right next to Agoura Deli is where I got my first guitar. It’s not there anymore but it used to be a place called Agoura Music. Literally four steps from where we’re standing I bought my first guitar. They had a thing where it was like you get a free guitar if you [buy] 10 lessons or something.
I wanted to play guitar because of Blink 182. I just really wanted to have a guitar and wear it really low and hold it in front of the mirror and look at myself holding it. And my parents were like, “Alright, we’ll get you this guitar if you take the 10 lessons.” [The instructor] would teach me some things and I wouldn’t practice and would get frustrated. And then the eighth or ninth lesson, I sort of got into playing the guitar rather than, like, looking at it.
Sam France on learning to play the piano:
When I started making music with Rado and we started making songs, I just learned piano was kind of a vehicle for songwriting for me. And I’m still not very good at playing instruments.
The music France listened to as a kid:
I was raised on classic rock stuff – you know, Beatles, stuff like that. Not too hip, but [it] kind of laid the foundation for what I listen to now.
The music Rado listened to as a kid (yes… Limp Bizkit):
My parents were really into, like, Heart and Fleetwood Mac and stuff. And mid-’70s Steely Dan. And that’s the stuff I remember listening to as a kid. So I also had an appreciation for that but then I also liked Limp Bizkit. When you’re 13 or 12 and there’s people saying, “Man, your parents don’t know what they’re talking about,” that’s just the vibe of the music. That sort of speaks to an adolescent kid.
I’ve been looking for a full video of No Destruction with the current live lineup ever since a short Instagram clip was posted over the summer that piqued my interest, and one finally popped up from their recent show in Montreal. Not quite the same outro, but still sounds great with the organ:
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.
When is musical excess—or more specifically a carefree recording style—a beautiful thing, and when is it purely over-indulgence? With today’s artists’ ability to record wherever and whenever they want and with more ways to create music than in the past, it can be easy to get carried away, adding every sound that’s even a little interesting. Sometimes it’s unintentional; sometimes artists don’t know any better; and some bands do it with intent. On …And Star Power, Foxygen knowingly and purposefully throws everything it has on the album with carefree, lo-fi glee. While it’s far from perfect, at times Star Power plays like a 21st century version of The Beatles’ White Album, with its short attention span flipping the sonic channel repeatedly over the double album’s four sides.
Compared to the band’s last album We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic, Star Power is a less straightforward venture, with the 82-minute run time containing a garbage bag-size assortment of music and sounds. It’s not an album that can be easily consumed like 21st Century, but rather one that that’s best heard lying in a prone position with the sound turned up, getting lost in the band’s bizarre world. Repeat listens reveal more intricacies in the sound. Like most double albums, it often battles to maintain momentum through its run time, but the sonic changes from poignant songs to weird freak-outs keep things intriguing much of the time.
Andy Beta wrote up a short capsule on Foxygen for this week’s New York Times T Magazine, giving the band — and the new album — quite a bit of praise:
You can still hear that musical lineage on their latest release, “…And Star Power,” out tomorrow. Taking cues from Todd Rundgren’s ambitious material from the early ’70s, the boys have indulged their every whim on this 82-minute double album. It’s full of hummable hooks that sound as if they’ve been pulled from a parallel dimension’s AM radio, strange half-baked songs and guest turns from the Flaming Lips and White Fence. It’s also a paean to Southern California: “Palm trees, yard flamingos, birthday cake,” Rado lists. To capture that spirit, Foxygen followed in the footsteps of Clark Gable and Sofia Coppola, and camped out at the Chateau Marmont. “We wanted to make an excessive record, and the Chateau Marmont is excessive and satanic,” France says. On the whole, “…And Star Power” feels as messy as a teenage boy’s bedroom — and as oddly endearing.
Along with today’s official release of the new album, Foxygen has released their official video for “Coulda Been My Love”:
Release date: October 14, 2014
Producer: FoxygenLabel: Jagjaguwar
Formats: 2xLP, 2xCD, 2xCassette, Digital
Reverb: You recorded “We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic,” in a professional studio, but you went back to the garage to record “…And Star Power.” What’s the thinking there?
Rado: We’ve been making albums by ourselves for a really long time. Recording our last album in a studio was an amazing experience, and one I wouldn’t trade for the world. I think we needed a lot of time to record this album, and we knew how to get the sounds we wanted for it better than a producer.
I wanted to get [“Ambassadors” producer] Richard Swift to be a part of the album, but our schedules conflicted. Swift is like a spiritual guru in my life. He’s definitely psychic.
Reverb: Did you look anywhere for conscious inspiration for “…And Star Power”? Long walks in the park, Steve Gutenburg films?
Rado: No, nothing I can think of. Mostly like sitting down at a piano and saying, that sounds really nice. (Laughs) I draw inspiration from actually playing music rather than outside things.
We had the concept first. We knew it was going to be a double album, we knew it was going be called “…And Star Power.” As it always happens with us, we came up with the title and the concept before we wrote a single song. Knowing that, we came up with an idea of what the album cover was going to be. Seeing that in our heads, we were able to write songs for it.
Reverb: So you created an idea of what you wanted it to be and filled in the gaps afterwards with the music.
Rado: Right. We start with the frame, and then paint the picture inside of it.
Reverb: Wasn’t “Star Power” the name of Sam France’s first solo album?
Rado: Yeah. Well, it was a punk band he had in Olympia, WA. The solo album was pretty much a collection of his demos for this album. I think it was only released on cassette on Craigslist, and only in Washington.
Reverb: Some people are taking issue with the length of “…And Star Power.” What do you think about that?
Rado: I always thought that more was better. A few people have taken this stance of, “Why is there so much?! Why have you done this to me? Why are you making me listen to this?” I don’t know! That’s such a shitty way to approach listening to music. Shouldn’t you be into the fact there’s a lot of ideas going on?
What they don’t realize is that their favorite albums is the same thing. People didn’t like The Stooges when they were a band. People like them after they broke up, when it was cool. I think it’s just a close-minded way to look at music.
I read one review where some guy was like, “This is not at all what I expected from Foxygen, so I don’t like it.” He calls himself a Foxygen scholar, like, “knowing Foxygen, this is such a disappointment to me.” Well, you’re not a Foxygen scholar. No one is. You’re not allowed to. You’ve only heard one album.
I think it’s not career suicide to take a risk. It’s what people should do. That’s the whole point of music. That’s the reason rock music exists. Somebody was like, “I’m going to play harder.” This album wouldn’t have come about without people taking risks.
Pitchfork has released their review of “…And Star Power”, giving it a 7.0. The review is largely along the lines of most other positive reviews, critiquing some of the excesses but noting the many great moments throughout:
Despite its double-album girth, …And Star Power feels less like a ’70s-rock masterwork than a ’90s indie patchwork in the tradition of Pavement’s Wowee Zowee, Sebadoh’s III, the Olivia Tremor Control’s Dusk at Cubist Castle, and Ween’s earliest brown-outs. This is an album you get lost inside—you don’t so much listen to its four-sided sprawl as free-fall into its increasingly deranged depths. Its kitchen-sink messthetic (parts of which were rendered in Rado’s actual kitchen) encompasses pristine power pop, stoner country-rock, a four-part title-track suite (overture included) that introduces the band’s punk-alter-ego-cum-pirate-radio-station Star Power, space-age bachelor-pad synth doodles, Lou Reed-copping junkie poetry, acid-folk rambles reminiscent of Syd Barrett, Feelies-esque jabber-jangle; and a song that sounds like Suicide crashing a Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach party. And that’s all before we’ve even reached Side Three (the one accurately subtitled “Scream: A Journey Through Hell”).
In its most fully realized moments, …And Star Power is the album Todd Rundgren could’ve released between Something/Anything? and A Wizard, a True Star, its best songs striking an uncanny balance between the exquisite balladry of the former and the progged-out fantasias of the latter. True, the Runt referentialism is beyond blatant: lead single “How Can You Really” is a perfect mirror reflection of “I Saw the Light”, while “Star Power IV: Ooh Ooh” distills the candlelit intimacy of “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” into a quick post-coital cuddle. (The press release for …And Star Power actually summarizes the album’s ethos—“rock and roll for the skull”—by quoting Patti Smith’s original Creem magazine review of A Wizard, a True Star. Even this band’s self-aggrandizement comes second-hand.)
But for all their shameless appropriation, Foxygen have become increasingly assured and accomplished songwriters, outfitting standouts like “Coulda Been My Love” (the ironically serene source of the intra-band acrimony mentioned at the top of this review), “Cannibal Holocaust”, and “Everyone Needs Love” not just with silken soft-focus melodies and heavenly harmonies, but ever-evolving arrangements that steer the songs into surprising, splendorous new directions without losing the throughline. At their best, a Foxygen song is like that drunk who seems destined to topple over, only to turn their stumble into a perfect pirouette.
Accordingly, the impenetrable “Cold Winter/Freedom” is preceded by an endearing little snippet of an eight-year-old France’s earliest recording forays, wherein he acts as the on-air announcer for his own imaginary radio station. “Hold onto your butts and get ready!” little Sam declares, and, in essence, …And Star Power is Foxygen’s attempt to recapture that sort of innocence and wide-eyed enthusiasm after a prolonged, public struggle to keep their shit together. But the retroactive warning is nonetheless appreciated: …And Star Power is a long, bumpy ride back to where Foxygen once belonged, and, at times, your butt is bound to feel sore.