Foxygen - ...And Star Power
by Dominic Woodcock
For …And Star Power, the fourth full-length album from psychedelic rock duo, Foxygen, a new band have been forged: Star Power. In the tradition of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, their invention of alter-egos hails the arrival of an album full of ambition and extravagance. According to a press release on their label’s website, Star Power is a punk band “You can only hear if you believe.” If that sounds slightly absurd, that’s only the half of it.
Foxygen have been around since 2005, but only began to gain traction in 2012 with Take The Kids Off Broadway, a collection of fuzzy pop songs that sounded as though it was a lost relic from the sixties. 2013’s We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic continued in that vein: they were channelling Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and all manner of early rock groups like the Animals, all with a hazy, vintage veneer. While these two albums both clocked in at just over half an hour in length, their new offering is longer than the two combined, with 24 tracks across 82 mind-bending minutes.
After a noisy instrumental opener, and two perfectly crafted pop songs in How Can You Really and Coulda Been My Love, Foxygen’s odyssey really kicks into gear with Cosmic Vibrations. It blares into life with sporadic flashing sounds which drop out to be replaced by quiet and mournful vocals. The track has the feel of psyched-out gentility: it feels as though it is teetering on the edge of madness at every moment, without ever quite losing its stability. In this sense, it feels like a microcosm of the whole album.
Despite that track’s feel of a mission statement, the Star Power suite of four tracks is ostensibly the album’s centrepiece. Across its nine minutes, it moves from lavish instrumentation to a tight piano melody, to incoherent wailing, to a group-sung hook and off-kilter jamming. Each segment segues into the next with a scrappiness that is jarring yet wholly intentional. On …And Star Power, Foxygen prove time and time again that they have a knack for writing laidback pop but, rather than presenting it with a clean mix, they favour a messy, noisy aesthetic. Thankfully, the duo keep a precise balance between dissonance and melody throughout the album.
…And Star Power’s second half is where it really thrashes towards oblivion. Incorporating everything from whooshy synths to guitar drones and screamed vocals, Foxygen’s wide pull of genres still somehow never loses its coherence. The album’s finest noisy moment is Talk, with Iggy Pop-esque raspy vocals and shrill guitar tone. It is as far as Foxygen gets from their beautiful pop sensibilities: still melodic, but absolutely insane. Along with Can’t Contextualise My Mind and a couple of other tracks on this back half, the song’s wilder segments are surely homage to the famously chaotic mixing on The Stooges’ seminal Raw Power.
When an album is as ambitious and protracted as …And Star Power, it is difficult to draw together its plethora of styles, influences and tangents. It is an odyssey, a voyage into the minds of two visionary men from California. Up until this point in their career, the duo’s music was content to pay vibrant tribute to the greats of sixties music. Here, however, they have revitalised the very music that they used to superbly imitate. …And Star Power sees Foxygen channel the rock of the sixties and punk of the seventies into one messy masterpiece.