If listening to Ariel Pink could be likened to regurgitating the history of AM radio through a post-modern lens, then Foxygen would no doubt be the FM rock radio version. But rather than obscure the era of the songs and mutilate the normal sonic quality of various instruments through peculiar recording techniques, Foxygen serves their music straight up and clean. However, like Pink, they have no problem switching genre or era mid song, even if the switch would seemingly be completely incongruous at first.
The result, as documented on the group’s debut full-length album We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, is fun, uplifting and surprising, whilst retaining a very familiar – though not specific – sonic quality that is sympathetic on the ears.
Throughout the record, Foxygen very comfortably borrow and mix styles from classic FM radio staples like Bob Dylan, the Kinks, and David Bowie, all the way through to more modern groups like Belle & Sebastian, No Doubt, Mazzy Star, or even MGMT. The songs generally consist of traditional band instrumentation – guitar, drums, bass, keyboard – without indulging in too many effects, pedals and synthesizers, as is common in modern times.
The high quality recording employed by Foxygen on the album also allows listeners to hear the musical versatility of the group’s members. Whilst the album sounds like the work of a group of guys and gals jamming together, recording duties are shared solely by two Californian males, Sam France and Jonathon Rado. Knowing this, it becomes interesting and beautiful to listen to lead vocalist Sam France’s voice as it straddles the line between male and female, as is evident on certain tracks like lead single ‘Shuggie’.
Though Foxygen is thus far generally unknown, the two boys have been playing, recording, and performing together for over ten years since their early teens at school talent shows; the ‘old friend’ comfort and chemistry between the two being clearly evident on the album.
Nonetheless, despite said chemistry and accessibility of Foxygen’s sound, 21st Century is a difficult album to categorise, as switching between tracks easily sounds like flipping through different radio stations looking for the genre or era that suits one’s mood.
Tracks like ‘No Destruction’ sound so much like a Bob Dylan rip-off that it could almost put Stealers Wheel to shame. The genderless and playful ‘San Francisco’ sounds like a collaborative effort between groups like Love and Belle & Sebastian. Then, more experimental tracks like the aforementioned ‘Shuggie’ sound bizarrely like No Doubt trying to infuse a Broadway musical bridge into the middle of one of their songs.
But despite the mix and match nature of the album, all the sounds and genres heard on 21st Century would sound quite familiar and accessible to most music listeners as the album seems to stick to the history of FM rock radio charts over the past 60 years for direct musical inspiration. But, given a post-modern twist, the songs themselves are constructed interestingly enough to make the re-visitation of said genres fresh and cohesive with modern times.
In that vein, 21st Century hints at the beginning of a very promising career for Foxygen, and further releases will be eagerly anticipated.