The Turntable: Foxygen's music influenced by past singers

The Newtonite

by Nicolas Choi

Music evolves in a linear manner; all musicians derive musical ideas, quirks and melodies from the past and incorporate them into to their music. Since the golden era for rock music, which arguably reached its peak in the ’60s,  there seems to be a strong divide between how listeners cope with the evolution of music. The disappointing underappreciation for older music is almost as common as the masturbatory praise of “real classic music” that plagues YouTube videos. In a seemingly reactionary manner, Foxygen recently released their first Long Play (LP), We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of  Peace & Magic, a full-length album that transcends musical niches, sounding simultaneously modern and vintage.

Whereas most contemporary artists derive influence from the past twenty years, Foxygen create psychedelic rock music that is heavily influenced by ’60s, ’70s and ’80s greats like David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Doors and The Velvet Underground. Many tracks seem to channel specific influences, almost as if Rado and Sam, the two people behind Foxygen, conscientiously decided to pay homage to their favorite artists. The track Bowling Trophies, for example, would have sounded like an electric Bob Dylan song, had it not been an instrumental. Despite having such noticeable influences, this rock duo maintains a modern edge through their unique, refreshing songwriting.

As expected from Foxygen, funny and memorable lyrics accompany the similarly quirky instrumentation. Lines that read as jokes at first, like No Destruction’s “There’s no need to be an asshole/you’re not in Brooklyn anymore,” glimmer with relatability from coast to coast. In Shuggie, a song that tells the heavy heartedness of obsession, Foxygen evoke emotions in the listener without being overtly obvious––“I met your daughter the other day, that was weird/She had rhinoceros-shaped earrings in her ears.” The album clocks in under a low forty minutes, a testament to Foxygen’s ability to make what they’re saying concise but effective.

Lead singer Sam France may not have a traditionally impressive voice, but his range and  unique vocal deliveries make up for it. The duo’s lyrics are ameliorated by France’s voice, which glides over tenor and bass notes with ease. In On Blue Mountain, France demonstrates his ability to deliver lines like “Up the mountain, god will save us” with a desperate croak that thematically fits the sinister track. He contrasts this on the next track, San Francisco, a lullaby that features a soft and innocuous voice. Quirks like David Bowie’s reverberant “O’s” and Mick Jagger’s moans have had an unmistakable influence on France, but he has nevertheless proven his competence as a vocalist.

In the album We Are, Foxygen have created a more accessible release, while losing some of the idiosyncratic charm that made their 2012 release, Take The Kids Off Broadway, so infectious. The most notable difference between the two albums is Foxygen’s catchier, more coherent songwriting. The pop-y track, San Francisco, features more structured songwriting and an irresistible chorus. We Are is by no means simplistic; the album is lush with diverse instrumentation––heavy percussion, a brass section, piano and electric guitar are laced together in almost every track. However, the album contains less of the musical splatter painting and unexpected left-turns that made Take The Kids off Broadway such an enjoyable roller coaster ride.

It’s often easy to confuse novelty with merit. In the case of  Foxygen, the duo’s incessant love for vintage floral clothing, their dated rock ‘n’ roll ethos, and their ridiculous title for this album may come across as a joke. However, Foxygen have once again demonstrated their talent as songwriters on the 36-minute delight We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic.

Rating: 4.3/5
Recommended Tracks: No Destruction, Shuggie, San Francisco, We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic