Foxygen: ...And Star Power

Foxygen ...And Star Power

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Attempting to rekindle ’60s pop and rock has been one of the most common pastimes among bands since, oh, 1970 or so. The decade’s most enduring musical tropes remain as easy to pick out in the music of the 2010s as ever: the ecstatic vocal harmonies of the Beatles; the clean, jangly guitars of the Byrds; the wheezing lyrical abstraction of Bob Dylan. The aspect of ’60s pop music that’s much more difficult to recreate is the seemingly boundless capacity for throw-it-at-the-wall experimentation. The idea that anything seemed possible during that era may be overly romanticized by those who lived and free-loved their way through it, since at least half the time the constant boundary-pushing just resulted in complete stoned nonsense anyway: For every “A Day in the Life,” there was a “Sing This All Together (See What Happens).” But the ambition to come up with the craziest, most out-there material possible is still an admirable one, and something of a lost art in rock music today.

For better or worse, Foxygen is one of the only bands keeping that particular element of the ’60s alive. The California duo, composed of manic singer Sam France and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rado (plus a few friends), released their first full-length album, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, to critical acclaim, but also to all-too-familiar charges that they had nicked their whole shtick from the Velvet Underground, the Rolling Stones, et al. Their second outing, ...And Star Power, contains far too expansive a mish-mash of styles to be seen exclusively through that lens: “Everyone Needs Love” is powerful Philly soul interspersed with intense, quavering guitar solos that sound lifted from a ’70s Led Zeppelin record, “Wally’s Farm” is twiddly synth tomfoolery, and almost a quarter of the album is given over to hellacious trash rock that couldn’t have existed without the advent of DIY hardcore. Still, sonically and spiritually, they haven’t been making albums this 1967 since 1968.

Arranged as a 24-track double album with four individually titled LP sides, ...And Star Power emulates not only the musical styles, but also the loopy concepts of so many classic bands. It’s not entirely clear if “Star Power” is supposed to be a radio station a la The Who Sell Out or the name of Foxygen’s alter ego; the concept isn’t so much half-assed as a deliberately loose framework that gives the band de facto permission to do whatever the hell they want. Only a few songs stick with a single idea for very long, such as the “Star Power Suite” on the second side, which vacillates on a dime from propulsive glam rock to a chummy stoner sing-along to emotive Neil Young-esque piano balladry. Or “Cosmic Vibrations,” which starts out sounding like demented ’60s cult favorite Skip Spence attempting to cover “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” before it breaks into a sunny, uplifting coda.

The result of this restlessness, added to periodic cacophonous interjections and the defiantly lo-fi, almost mono-sounding recording quality, means ...And Star Power features a seemingly endless store of hooks, but relatively few songs that adhere to the traditional three-minute single formula—with a few glorious exceptions, like the piano bouncer “How Can You Really,” the dreamy “Hang,” the punchy garage rocker “666,” and even the near-instrumental “Hot Summer,” with its infectious beach-party organ licks. It’s a dense and rewarding listen, whose myriad melodic qualities take a bit of digging and patience to fully appreciate.

...And Star Power simply wouldn’t fulfill its polychromatic mission without at least a little overindulgence. The album’s third side, titled “Scream: Journey Through Hell,” isn’t quite that, but it’s a mostly abrasive collage of disjointed hard-rock riffs that provide only very intermittent pleasures. In one sense, that stretch of music is a detriment to an otherwise astonishing piece of work; in another, like so many double albums of the past, it’s all part of the ride. Sit back, toke up, and just go with it.

Release Date
October 14, 2014