Foxygen’s 2012 EP, Take the Kids Off Broadway, sounded sort of like a mashup of every hit from the ’60s, and it worked, even if it all felt somewhat done before. But beyond the Los Angeles duo’s obvious influences from music of a bygone era, Foxygen seems to bring a bit of ’60s spirit to the now in which we have found ourselves — a time of Spotify and iPhone zombies and dub-whatever.
21st Century Ambassadors
This is a band that publicly decries corporations, that will personally email you its album download if yours isn’t working for whatever reason, that has apologized via Facebook for its success for fear of “selling out.” You might consider Foxygen’s Sam France and Jonathan Rado modern hippies, living in a cynical, digital age, and that wouldn’t be too far from the truth. Actually, they make their purpose in the present quite clear in the title of their first LP, We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Music.
The album begins with “In the Darkness,” a warm track that opens the album like a blindingly optimistic sunrise (the song name is misleading, OK). It packs a whole lot of cheer in a small amount of time, clinking piano notes ringing out while Sam France speculates, “Maybe I won’t even go to work that day / I don’t care if I’m in trouble at all,” lines that embody the carefree, if not naïve, nature of The 21st Century Ambassadors.
“San Francisco” is another song whose attitude could best be summed up as “oh well.” France dispassionately laments, “I left my love in San Francisco,” accompanied by a female vocalist who shrugs, “That’s okay, I was bored anyway.” It’s heartbreaking and earnest but also pretty silly, with a level of cuteness that rivals Belle and Sebastian. Themes of San Francisco and the cruelty of feminine indifference appear early in the album, too, with “No Destruction.” It’s led by a mellow guitar that keeps the song from becoming melodramatic, but you can almost picture France kicking the ground in frustration. The song acknowledges that being pissed off and bitter about a lost love is an acceptable human response, but also “there’s no need to be an asshole.”
OK, so at this point Foxygen sounds like it’s full of apathetic, loveless losers, but that could not be further from the truth. “Shuggie” is another track that starts off brooding, with France singing aloofly about yet another person who loves him no more — but, as anyone who has ever had a broken heart knows, you can only stay sad for so long, and the song bursts into a sunshiney refrain. “If you believe in yourself / You can free your soul,” France sings without the least bit of sarcasm, his voice suddenly rich, thick with vibrato and newfound optimism.
Speaking of France’s vocals, it’s worth mentioning the extent to which they have matured since Broadway. In the EP, France sounds like he’s just fucking around — his voice is careless, rough at times, almost like a drunk karaoke of Lou Reed or Mick Jagger. But now he has cleaned up a bit, polished his vocal chords, harnessing the ability to sound cool and detached if he wants to — even when his lyrics are tender and vulnerable.
In The 21st Century, Foxygen sounds like it’s getting its shit together. The album isn’t nearly as scatterbrained as Broadway, which isn’t a good nor a bad thing but perhaps rather the difference between an LP and an EP.
Perhaps the most bizarre moment is the closing of the album, during which France sings deeply about believing in love and God. It’s difficult to tell if the group is being sincere or not; it just sounds too hokey to be true. And yet, that is the beauty of the members of Foxygen. They’re not ironic. They’re not even cool — in fact, they’re probably the warmest two dudes in music right now. They’re fiercely passionate about what they believe in, and more importantly, about their music — and it shows.