Review: Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Published on January 22nd, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Okay, come on; Foxygen are a piss-take, right? I mean, Los Angeles duo Sam France and Jonathan Rado are quite clearly talented musicians and songwriters…so why all the flat-out steals from better-known artists littered across their second album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic?
Is it post-modernism? Some kind of psych-pop appropriation of sampling? An ‘endearing’ show of cheek? Whatever it is, it tarnishes for Rocksucker what would otherwise be a highly enjoyable listen, and in a way that feels like even more of a crime than if they were just plain rubbish.
Things start well enough with the campy fuzz-stomp of “In the Darkness”, even if it does sound really quite a lot like Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles, and are kept ticking along quite nicely by the Loaded-era-Velvet-Undergound-meets-Elephant-6 “No Destruction”. Its vintage psych-pop affectations sound pretty darn authentic, leaving Rocksucker wondering whether or not that’s something to commend it for. Certainly, lyrics like “There’s no need to be an asshole / You’re not in Brooklyn anymore” grant it the benefit of the doubt.
The transparently pinched “Suspicious Minds” hook in “On Blue Mountain”, however, does not. Furthermore, that it’s introduced almost immediately makes that six-minute running time look more than a little daunting at first, but it has to be said that Foxygen end up justifying it in spades, building it into a Super Furry Animals-esque crescendo of daft majesty.
Then they go and spoil it all by doing something stupid like…sounding like The Zombies covering “Auld Lang Syne” on the intro of “San Francisco”. That might not sound so bad – heck, Rocksucker loves The Zombies – but this one proceeds to feature the infuriatingly regurgitated line “I left my heart in San Francisco” followed instantly by a refrain of “That’s okay / I was born in LA” that precisely mirrors the melody and phrasing of “But they’re not / He just wrote it like that” from The Beatles’ “Only a Northern Song”. Aaarrghh!
We then get the strangely huffing ‘n’ tooting interlude “Bowling Trophies”, which ends with the sound of a motorbike revving, before “Shuggie” distracts by riding atop a chord progression over which one may sing “Fly Me to the Moon” if one so wishes. It redeems itself by sssuddenly ssswitching into ssswaggering sssixties sssoul, then back again, then breaking briefly into funk and then…THEN…fading out on a swinging “ba ba da da da” section.
The White–Album-Lennon-y “Oh Yeah” flaunts another exemplary build before the groovy rock and roll fun of the title track leads into a line of descending power chords reminiscent of Supergrass, but the cat is once again thrown among the pigeons by “On No 2” sounding like “Our House is a Very Fine House” infused with “Strawberry Fields” and Grandaddy’s “So You’ll Aim Towards the Sky”. We’ll forgive it, however, on account of its stern announcement of “birds were landing on my head”, ace psychedelic wig-out section and vaudeville piano coda advising “Try to be what God wants you to be”.
Does God want Foxygen to be such brazen rip-off merchants? By imbuing them with so much lovely musical talent, we’d suggest not. Take it all with a large pinch of salt and there’s a lot of fun to be had here; it’s just so gosh darn frustrating how close We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic comes to being an excellent body of work, only to throw it away with the very frivolousness that works in their favour when it’s not manifesting itself as outright theft.
Rocksucker says: Three Quails out of Five!
We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is out now on Jagjaguwar. For more information, please visit www.facebook.com/foxygentheband