The universe is making music all the time

Step Right Up: Foxygen

leave a comment »

Foxygen is the Los Angeles-based songwriting duo of Sam France (vocals, Olympia, Washington) and Jonathan Rado (guitar, keyboards, NYC). It is incredible to think they are both a mere 22 years-old, considering their masterful songcraft and their uncanny ability to craft a perfect pop song. In January 2013, their full-length album, ‘We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic’ was released on the peerless indie label, Jagjaguwar. A kaleidoscope of Stones, Kinks, Zombies, Bowie, Beatles, and Dylan are etched on Foxygen’s remarkable sunshine-pop oeuvre of sound. 

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


The collection of nine indie-pop songs are performed by Sam France, Jonathan Rado and Richard Swift. The album ‘We Are The 21st Century..’ was produced and mixed by Richard Swift at National Freedom. What lies at the heart of Foxygen’s songs is Richard Swift’s singular sense of melody. I was first introduced to Swift upon the release of a double-album of his, entitled ‘The Novelist/Walking Without Effort ‘back in the mid-00’s on the Secretly Canadian label. A certain lyric of Swift comes to mind: “Trying so hard to craft a rhyme with nickels and dimes”. The perfect pop opus, that is ‘The Novelist’ is barely twenty minutes long yet his poetic rhymes and intricate arrangements and production, shines brightly throughout. The instrumentation of mandolins, clarinet and guitars echoes the timeless sounds of Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney and Tom waits. As always, Swift’s melodies are things of beauty that radiates all of the sun’s rays onto your new day. I’d like to think Swift’s role as being the visionary producer, in the vein of George Martin for The Beatles. The musical telepathy between him and Foxygen’s France and Rado is clearly felt along the 21st Century’s compelling sonic journey. Album opener ‘In The Darkness’ is reminiscent of the opening ‘Sgt Pepper’ on The Beatles ‘Sgt Pepper And His Lonely Hearts Club Band’ as France sings “So without further ado we’d like to introduce you to the darkness”. Glorious keyboards, guitar, brass, and 60’s pop laden-hooks flow endlessly beneath ‘In The Darkness”s cosmic and timeless whirlwind of sound. ‘No Destruction’ is next that wonderfully mixes Dylan circa ‘Blonde On Blonde’ and Pavement’s ‘Crooked Rain’. The result is an utterly compelling folk-pop gem. The array of backing harmonies conjures up the sound of Ray Davies and The Kinks. The opening line on verse 2 is perhaps my favourite Foxygen lyric: “I’m talking to my grandma who lost her arms in the war”. A few notes later, France sings “There’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore” that could be Malkmus singing of his dislike for The Smashing Pumpkins in ‘Range Life’. The sprawling vocals during the line “Oh but the door of consciousness isn’t open anymore” is an ode to Dylan and sounds somewhere between ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘Blonde On Blonde’.

My favourite must be ‘On Blue Mountain’. This song marks the genuine promise for what this young band could become, one or two albums down the line. The song opens with an organ and a seductive slow beat. The cosmic sphere tapped into here is paralleled with ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’ by The Flaming Lips. A sonic depth and soulful dimension is penetrated. I love France’s soul-drenched falsetto on the verse, amidst the delicate guitar tones. The song evolves into a gospel indie-rock opus, that is nothing short of spectacular. The backing harmonies share the burning spirit of Jackson 5, and an anthem is born. The tempo slows on the second verse, as France Sings “I was looking through the bible”. The song turns from soul to blues in one fleeting moment. A windswept feel of nostalgia is etched gorgeously across the sonic canvas of ‘San Francisco’. The vocal interchange between Sam France, Jessie Baylin, and Sarah Versprille exudes the magical realm of the songs of Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra. A mystical charm radiates from the pop ballad that is placed perfectly between The Zombies and The Kinks. The art and beauty of a pop melody, as ever, lies at the heart of Foxygen’s mission as ambassadors of peace and magic.

A short interlude of a raging blues jam (think Link Wray and 70’s Detroit) forms the bridge between part A and B of the album. ‘Shuggie’ follows next. A beautiful, heartfelt soul-pop gem is born. ‘Shuggie’ contains a doo-wop feel and funk rhythm that exhibits the special realm of the lost classic ‘Inspiration Information’ by Shuggie Otis. The immaculate production and layers of instrumentation is a joy to witness. This was released as a single back in 2012, and continues to stop me in my tracks. The sound of The Band, Motown, and Phil Spector are floating in the song’s headspace, as a technicolor of sound is imprinted on your heart and mind. ‘Oh Yeah’ reminds me of Beck’s ‘Modern Guilt’ where a Dangermouse production and crystalline guitar sound comes in waves through the speakers. This song has it all. There are Keith Richards licks of fat guitar tones, T-Rex and Bowie-esque songcraft, and the irresistible soul-funk of Prince. Towards the end, as France shouts “Freak out”, raging guitars and drums conjure up the sound of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti.

The title-track is the album’s rock ‘n’ roll anthem, as the vocals of “We are the 21st century/goin’ to kick your ass boy” exudes the raw power of Iggy and the Stooges. The falsetto vocals transports me to Eddie Cochran’s ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’. The closing section evolves into a sublime torchlight gospel refrain. ‘Oh No 2’ is a soulful pop ballad that belongs somewhere between Todd Rundgren’s 70s pop and the soundscapes of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. I cannot wait to hear what Foxygen do next. With ‘We Are The 21st Century…’ there are no borders and the possibilities prove endless.


‘We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic’ is out now on Jagjaguwar.

Written by admin

April 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: