Review: Foxygen’s sophomore release is retro but not derivative

Ryan Morris

Editor’s Note: The following reflects the opinions of the author.

Though it’s obviously a generalization, a lot of independent rock criticism is like a game of spot-the-influences.

It’s all too easy to fall into the habit of describing a hot new band as a combination of this seminal group’s style with this other seminal group’s style.
The indie rock duo known as Foxygen seems to play right into this game on a first listen basis.

The songs on their first release “Take the Kids off Broadway” and their excellent new sophomore album “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic” hopscotch across genre signifiers, representing a literal melting pot of influences.

But hunting for the various musical references – from Lou Reed to the Beatles to the Stones to David Bowie to Iggy Pop to the Doors – is basically missing the point.
The bottom line is that “Peace and Magic” is chock full of very strong songwriting. The retro atmosphere and experimentation within each song is not meant as a shameless rip-off of the artists above.

It is instead simply the way Foxygen decided to execute their songs, and they do so very skillfully. The result is eight tracks of hugely entertaining psychedelic pop that feels familiar, but manages to continuously surprise song after song after song.

“Peace and Magic” tightens up the schizophrenic genre experiments of “Take the Kids off Broadway” in favor of focused arrangements and songwriting.
There is a heavy emphasis on melody. The hooks on this album sink in early on and don’t let go.

The joyous statement “We can live on the mountain,” from “On Blue Mountain” and the call-and-response refrain “I left my love in San Francisco / That’s OK / I was born in L.A.” of “San Francisco” are earworms of the best kind – intricate and catchy.

The crown jewel of the album is the brilliant “No Destruction,” where singer Sam France effortlessly combines the vocal affectations of Mick Jagger and Lou Reed to become the eloquent front man of the world’s best nonexistent bar band.

Yet beyond the theatricality of the song lies a beautiful descending melody and a simple, robust chord progression littered with production quirks. It’s a song with the feel of a classic that never lets its influences overwhelm its direct impact.

Foxygen gets a little more psychedelic on tracks like “On Blue Mountain” and “Shuggie,” both of which shift gears and tempos several times, wandering into reverb-heavy tangents.

The title track, probably the biggest diversion here, resembles the garage rock of contemporaries, such as Thee Oh Sees with an unhinged, stuttering vocal delivery, charging organ and guitar vamps.

These unexpected twists, executed so precisely and expertly, separate Foxygen from the pack. “Peace and Magic” ends up being a deliriously enjoyable listen and a welcome answer to indie rock’s obsession with its own influences.

Rating: Three and a half out of four stars.

Story: COLIN MOORE, A&E Reporter