The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic?
Based: Brooklyn, NYC
For Fans Of: David Bowie, The Velvet Underground
Trawl through your record collection and no matter how big or small it may be, chances are you’ll find an album that two-piece Foxygen use as a reference point. On the brink of releasing their debut full-length, ‘We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace and Magic’ (now that’s a title if ever I saw one), Sam France and Jonathan Rado are proving to be the most divisive of young upstarts. Here’s why:
Their songs are some of the most referential you’re likely to come across and Foxygen don’t claim to care. When we think we hear Bowie in a song like ‘Shuggie’, with its Glam Rock-era chorus leaping out at us from out of nowhere, it’s supposedly more of a Brian Eno influence; the meeting-ground of minds that led to seminal albums such as 1977’s ‘Low’. When we hear the lazy hum of Lou Reed in a song like ‘San Francisco’, vocalist France is only being himself, we’re informed. And Foxygen go with this nostalgia-laced sound and they use it to its absolute maximum. And some people don’t like that.
There’s a chorus of musical theorists – largely those holding a copy of critic Simon Reynolds’ ‘Retromania’ book – claiming that pop culture is failing to move on. Everything we hold beloved is making reference to the past. Nothing has any futuristic value. Bands who we loved in the 1980s are still touring the same record, in turn hogging up the arenas and threatening our ability to move on and embrace a sound that’s progressive and of its time. Foxygen, in a way, prove these theorists to be correct. They’re fast becoming 2013’s most talked-about band. But it’s not just down to their Kinks-meets-Velvet Underground-meets every other band you hold close to your heart sound.
There’s also the fake bust-ups, the staged fights while playing live. Foxygen adore a band called The Brian Jonestown Massacre; a group of drug-addled creative-types who’d often come to blows while peddling their songs during lowly-attended gigs. It was all brilliantly documented in the now notorious ‘Dig!’ film. Foxygen, who’ve been in a band since they were in high school, have spent a vast part of the past ten years watching and admiring the antics on display. In steps another reference, then. I’ve seen promoters call them everything under the sun, either because they won’t turn up for a show or because they’ll mess around. They’re gaining a reputation that’ll either ruin or be the making of them.
They certainly have the songs to help build the barracks against any impending criticism. Working with singer-songwriter and touring member of The Shins, Richard Swift, they wrote their debut in an excitement-fuelled period of ten days, following Swift’s promise to record with them. The full-length proper follows on from album upon album of unreleased recordings, put together in Rado and France’s youth and shared with close friends at school. Recent EP ‘Take The Kids Off Broadway’ was an intense, multi-referencing work. One track could change pace and structure half a dozen times in three minutes. The tracks making up the full-length, due for release through Jagjaguwar, are more simple, memorable and immediate. They’re also the band’s best to date. And to think, Foxygen have another 100 songs prepped for a follow-up. Regardless of whether they’re consumed by fame or riddled with notoriety, we’ll be hearing a lot more from Foxygen in the coming years. No doubt about it.