It is instantly apparent from the opening strings on Hang’s first track “Follow the Leader” that this album is going to be a departure from their last album. Noticeably jazzier and less psychedelic. Recording the entire album with a 34-piece orchestra propels Sam France and Jonathan Rado out of the 60’s and roots them firmly in that late 70’s/early 80’s transition out of disco and into pop. “Follow the Leader” sounds like it could have been produced by Jeff Lynne and would fit right at home on ELO’s Discovery album.
The second track, “Avalon”, is reminiscent of Paul Williams, with its nickelodeon-esque, ragtime chorus and decidedly 80’s throwback saxophone solo finale. The song sounds like the love child of Gary Glitter and ABBA.
“Mrs. Williams” sounds like a Lou Reed track before sliding into an almost Rolling Stones vocal howl. How can one track incorporate the disparate sounds of steel drums and a Chicago-style horns section? Foxygen does it effortlessly and makes you believe that the instruments were created to be played together.
“America” synthesizes multiple traditional music styles like swing, big band and orchestral. Blaring clarinet and Disney-like trills fill out a song that is the personification of eclectic, yet manages to be epic.
“On Lankershim” combines Gram Parsons country rock with fifties beats and a Bowie-esque theatrical vocal style. “Upon a Hill” features sing-song spoken word lyrics over German beergarten beats.
In “Trauma” France plays call and response with the backup singers. The song seems like it is constructed completely of a chorus and breakdown, no real verses. It is built up with a layered horn section over a thrumming guitar riff.
“Rise Up” is a moral uplift song on a grand scale, like a Meatloaf epic without the bombast. Built around a simple melody and the earnest refrain, “Everybody wonders where the red fern grows.” The line works doubly as a literary reference and a visual memory that is just out of reach. The song breaks down into a guitar fade out.
At only 8 tracks and 32 minutes, there is a lot happening over a very short runtime. So many ideas crash into each other, but they are orchestrated in such a way that they never seem to be competing and they work so well together that the songs never seem fragmented. Foxygen has always worn their influences on their sleeve, and that is half the fun of their albums, picking out the musical references. Their move into a new era of music and the use of orchestration has created a freshness to their sound and reinvigorated their songwriting.
Foxygen will be hitting the road on February 22nd with tour dates beginning in the US on March 21st. Make sure to stay tuned to GSM for your chance to win tickets to their show at The Fonda on April 8th!