Foxygen :: … And Star Power


Returning to a tack they’d previously embraced before achieving a measure of critical success, … And Star Power reorients Foxygen’s trajectory, without any regard for making a “follow-up.” In hindsight, 2011’s Take The Kids Off Broadway EP and 2013’s We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic were – in   Star Power’s wake – outliers within their discography.

Those two albums, by turns invigorating and confounding, were the most polished works Foxygen had released to date. They were, however, not debut albums. From 2005-2011, Foxygen made several EPs and at least one “album,” — only no one heard them. Kill Art and Ghettoplastikk are twenty-odd minute journeys through two teenage boys discovering themselves and their sound. They feature as many great, catchy tracks as they do maddening ones, and display an emerging confidence in their studio weirdness. “Jurrassic Exxplosion Philippic” is a 30-song “opera” that’s light on song length and lighter on concentration, but flashes a progressing prodigy. An EP in 2011, and various other tracks (and untold more stowed away on external hard drives) also punctuate what amounts to ten years of output.

Foxygen :: How Can You Really

… And Star Power starts out as a continuation of the previous LP, both musically and knowingly, as the sub-title of the first several tracks is “The Hits.” These songs, which literally do include the albums singles so far, are just the type that anyone who came to the band for the sound in a song like “San Francisco” should adore – a mellow, even approach at writing a “proper” song – fewer shouts and murmurs, less bravado. Across the album’s first tracks, Jonathan Rado’s arrangements and multi-instrument blitz continues to improve with the more resources provided, but the records’ measured approach to never sound too crisp is what ultimately unifies the eighty-two minutes of music.

Following “The Hits” is the “Star Power Suite,” which has actually been gestating within the band for some years and serves as the only thematically convergent side. The rest of the record is a hodge podge of settings, tempos and ideas – philosophically and sonically in line with their earlier releases. There’s a little something for everyone, but maybe not enough in total for some. As it reaches it’s second half, … And Star Power begins to feel more akin to Olivia Tremor Control’s Music From an Unrealized Film Script: Dusk At Cubist Castle or Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends than just a nostalgic hipster knockoff. There are 30-second bursts that are so tantalizingly executed and catchy, it can become frustrating to follow along and allow Foxygen to choose the whims. Once hope is raised that the next-big-hit is coming, the subject is changed.

Foxygen :: Cosmic Vibrations

Some riffs do go on longer than necessary, and some stretches can begin to meander too long. But what the album may lack in self-control, it makes up with the fruit of letting those impulses out – sometimes they need two minutes of steam to get the train out of the station, and an equal time to brake. They also can craft more unified songs, ones that may not be pop-friendly, but are beautifully sequenced and sung. Considering Sam France and Jonathan Rado have essentially had two “debuts” of their band, tracks like “666,” “Brooklyn Police Station” and “Everyone Needs Love” are mature but also steps back towards a more personal, earlier sound. Some bands demo songs to death and release the first twelve they’ve got. Foxygen releases what feels logically concluded.

… And Star Power is not “new,” but it is a step forward in Foxygen’s self-determined progression. It’s much more amusing to simply be at peace with the fact that Foxygen completely eschews our normal, boring 3-minutes-is-a-song world than to get ticked off for not getting a record full of “hits.” As demonstrated by adding of twenty-four new tracks into an already robust catalog, Foxygen keeps saying: don’t play anything after it stops feeling good. Move on. Next.   words / b kramer

Related:   (Catching Up With ) Foxygen :: The AD Interview

15 thoughts on “Foxygen :: … And Star Power

  1. I think this is a really bad album.
    Plus, of the two songs you shared, both involve thievery. The first basically plagiarizes Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw the Light” and the second section of the second track steals the melody from “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.”

  2. Great review of a somewhat disjointed yet intriguing album. Listened to it a good 3-4 times front-to-back already and seem to come off with a different take each time. Maybe that’s a sign of a good album, I dunno. Either way, this post hits that point completely.

  3. I realize that the comments area here generally is limited to just that (comments) rather than discussion, but I’m curious to know whether readers of this fine blog share the view that Foxygen “plagiarizes” Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw the Light.” Seriously? Did Rado note that he immersed himself in Rundgren’s music while this album was being put together? Is it surprising that there is a early- to mid-70s Rundgren sound in the album? Isn’t this more like one musician speaking to another via song? It’s not as if each musician is a Romantic genius who, is tortured isolation, is stuck by inspiration from the ether (not that ether, which is another story). If we are to provide critiques of music based on whether each song is unique, then god knows Bo Diddley was correct in his frustration about the genesis or rock. Late Dylan’s music is nothing but long list of plagiarized music. I don’t know. I acutally enjoyed hearing Rundgren being acknowledged in this album. That Foxygen’s allusion to “I Saw the Light” is fodder for criticism, then I must be in the wrong place.

  4. @Bob – Yer in the right place. I am in agreement with you. Also, Rado was on the AD Sirius show last spring and played all Rundgren produced and/or composed tracks — fully acknowledging the man’s presence on the (then) forthcoming Foygen record.

  5. Thanks–I just couldn’t let the criticism above slide and was surprised to see that no one else had taken exception to it. Perhaps readers here chose to take a tack that was more tactful than the direction I took, though? In any case, “… And Star Power” is an interesting album and one that I think will eventually be appreciated more fully than what the current reaction to it suggests. (Odd that Rundgren music has been resurfacing lately, e.g. Neon Indian’s “Deadbeat Summer”).

  6. Well, Bob, ripping-off another artist is not a sign of lack of musical quality, it’s just a lack of creativity. If I had made an album entirely composed of songs that I stole from other people – and the songs that I stole were really great – does that mean I’ve made a great album? Additionally, an influence is fine. But it’s quite clear that it’s more if you play the tracks back to back. Also, consider that “Ooh Ooh” has the same beginning as Rundgren’s “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference.” If he had a similar thing going, that would be fine, but it’s more than that.

    On the album itself, I think it’s a mess. The songs are shapeless, moving from one mediocre section to the next. If they had spent some time actually writing good hooks, lyrics, melodies.. or just anything, it would have been a better album. However, it seems like they had no producer to whip them into shape and create an album with solid songs rather than just throwing a bunch of ideas into a pot and seeing what comes out after boiling for a couple of hours.

  7. You have quite a reaction to this album, Bubbly Waves. If you hear the album as both too familiar (“ripping-off”) and unfamiliar (“mess,” “shapeless”), perhaps you are listening to the uncanny?

    Also, consider what Paul McCartney had to say about The Grey Album: “It was really cool when hip-hop started, you would hear references in lyrics, you always felt honored. It’s exactly what we did in the beginning — introducing black soul music to a mass white audience. It’s come full circle. It’s, well, cool. When you hear a riff similar to your own, your first feeling is ‘rip-off.’ After you’ve got over it you think, ‘Look at that, someone’s noticed that riff.’”

  8. @Bubbly

    Whoa awesome I’ve been hearing “I Saw the Light” since probably I was a tot in 1972, and it was always one of my favorite Carole King songs. Which I now discover was by somebody totally else. That rules, I always felt bad for Todd that the only decent song he ever wrote was “Open My Eyes”. Now he’s got another one!

    Of course, banging Bebe Buell when she was 19 makes up for anything anyhow.

  9. I don’t think it’s necessarily possible to be 100% innovative these days. Everything has been done already, and it’s how people reinterpret and reinvent art and music that makes it new and relevant. I like these songs.

  10. For what it’s worth i remember feeling hostile hearing their first album and what i initially thought was ‘ripping off’ – The Stones, Elvis, Dylan… but by the time Richard Swift’s beautiful production won me over i realised all the greats they’re tipping their hats to – built their entire careers on kind of artistic thievery… it is still a high form of flattery in my book and if these familiar moments on both albums were the sole merit i wouldn’t have been won over by them. There is so much more going on and, as a musician myself i’m only too aware of how easy it is to subconsciously absorb the music you love, and that finds a way of coming out, it’s very difficult to stop that…

  11. Thanks for this review. I feel similarly. I REALLY love “We Are the 21 Century…” and I’m finding “…And Star Power” harder to get into, but the more I listen to it, the more it is growing on me. Honestly, I seldom read music reviews because I feel like music speaks for itself and it’s just a personal taste thing, but I was having a hard time defining my feelings for this latest Foxygen release. I love what you said here: “There are 30-second bursts that are so tantalizingly executed and catchy, it can become frustrating to follow along and allow Foxygen to choose the whims. Once hope is raised that the next-big-hit is coming, the subject is changed.” And I also love your conclusion: “… And Star Power is not “new,” but it is a step forward in Foxygen’s self-determined progression. It’s much more amusing to simply be at peace with the fact that Foxygen completely eschews our normal, boring 3-minutes-is-a-song world than to get ticked off for not getting a record full of “hits.”” Thank you for being insightful, honest, and also not overly negative.

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