Soaked in classic rock nostalgia, Foxygen emerges for their third studio output, …And Star Power, a boisterous and excessive double album boasting appearances by members of Bleached, White Fence, Of Montreal, and The Flaming Lips.
The Californian duo of Sam France and Jonathan Rado have been making music together since 2005. And while their previous album, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, illuminated keen musicianship and genius songwriting, these accomplishments were often eclipsed by the controversy and tumult surrounding them.
On-stage arguments (one of which I personally witnessed at Pitchfork Fest in 2013) and a cancelled tour fueled rumors of an imminent break up. Amidst all of this commotion, one would be unwise to think they would last the year, let alone put out new music. Yet as a product of perseverance, here they are: France’s smooth vocals and Rado’s keen ear time travel through the 60’s and 70’s, their own originality guiding them from wormhole to wormhole, back to 2014.
…And Star Power lifts off with the aptly titled, “Star Power Airlines.” Acting as a microcosm of the entire album–feedback hisses, a fanfare of echoed vocals, scattered drum breaks and thrashing guitar riffs shape the track before it comes to an abrupt stop. We’ve reached our destination.
The landscape appears messy and unorganized, but within the instrumental disarray, it’s also quite intriguing.
Catchy single, “How Can You Really,” follows, with “Could’ve Been My Love” and “Cosmic Vibrations” close behind. Clocking in at eighty-two minutes in length, Rado and France are almost self-aware of the laborious task of engaging …And Star Power in one sitting; providing its highlights right off the bat. The latter finds France’s vocal register at a low, moody cool, channeling his inner Jim Morrison over a minimal acoustic strum. Organ flourishes abound, before inquiring, “where must we go again to become friends?” reflecting the turmoil accosting the duo in the past year and a half’s rise to fame.
Ambition runs rampant, but never more so than on their “Star Power” medley. With four parts, marked by Roman numerals and playful chapter titles, melodic piano and a distant bass line propel it forward into a dark, drug-addled fever dream of sound; the song and album’s title repeatedly chanted as if it’s a magical incantation used to ward off evil.
“Star Power IV: Ooh Ooh” brings the medley home as heartfelt croons transport the listener to a 70’s high school gymnasium full of teenage couples embracing each other while they slowly rock back and forth overcome with puppy love.
The double album is a hard feat to accomplish, but when it’s done well, it can be a magical thing (See: The Beatles, The Wall, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness). Not to say that …And Star Power doesn’t deserve an attentive listen, but when producing a piece of this magnitude, it should be because each and every song is essential to the work as a whole.
I’m not sure that’s always the case here, i.e. the ear assaulting and almost unlistenable, “Cold Winter/Freedom.” Flashes of greatness parade throughout, it just simply takes some musical mining to find these sonic diamonds within the extensive rough.
Foxygen’s …And Star Power is out now on iTunes. They will be performing tonight and tomorrow at Chicago’s own Lincoln Hall as well. Go check them out and see what all the buzz is about.
(Featured image courtesy of Foxygen Facebook)