I first heard of the California-based duo Foxygen back in 2013 with the release of their second record We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic. I didn’t really know what to think of it at the time other than that the track “Shuggie” was pretty sweet. It was a blend of funk, strings, and glam rock that sounded as if David Bowie and the Kooks had made a record together in high school. For whatever reason, probably some bigger release at the time had distracted me, I let Foxygen slip out of my mind. So much so in fact that as I was writing about this record I noticed that they had released an entire 24-track concept record in between 21st Century and their newest record Hang, called …And Star Power. The last track on that record, was entitled “Hang.”
“What are we good for if we can’t make it?” sang lead singer Sam France on … And Star Power. It was a question that sprouted from a band that was almost about to give up. 21st Century performed well critically, but they were far from being a household indie name, let alone getting radio play. Furthermore, their follow-up, Star Power, didn’t capitalize on the success of 21st Century, and they went even more minimalist with their sound. Pitchfork‘s Stuart Berman described it as a “24-song splatter that often sounds like a band at war with itself.” The defining chorus from the last track “Hang” pleaded “if I’m not good for you, can I still hang around?”
Whatever got the group back on their feet however is beyond me, but working with indie-maximalists Matthew E. White and his orchestral arranger Trey Pollard (who are listed in the credits) must have been the key. Bouncing back, the duo recorded Hang, a record that proves all the good that comes from the effort of spending over two years time on one record. With a full orchestra and bombastic mastering from Bob Ludwig, Foxygen are finally here to “hang” around for good, as I’m sure such was the intent for naming their newest record.
Sounding straight out of the late 70’s, Hang is a tour-de-force of American glam-rock reminiscent of David Bowie, Billy Joel, Elton John, and even a little Bruce Springsteen. Reported as the group’s “first proper studio album,” despite technically being their fourth, the large orchestral sound of Hang also brings to mind the recent success of La La Land. Though of course the creation of the two works have nothing to do with each other, they do share a commonality when it comes to the concept of large maximalist works full of theatrics and the grandiose. It’s especially noticeable when it comes to tracks like “Avalon,” a tribute to L.A.’s Sunset Boulevard that includes a jazz breakdown where the drummer actually stands up and takes a tap dance solo.
Sure, Foxygen sometimes take the homage to late 70’s rock a little too far at some points on the record, like the ill-timed and patriotic “America,” or the “sha-la-la-la’s” that transition into a fast-paced polka-like speed-walking pace of “Upon a Hill,” but there’s some really great moments on Hang as well. The major problem of trying to pin-point the greatest success of Hang falls solely in how often the songs feel changes. It was something I really enjoyed back on “Shuggie” from 21st Century, but the tracks on Hang have way more than two different feels, and that’s per song.
I love what Foxygen have done with their sound, and tracks like “Follow the Leader,” “Mrs. Adams” and other select moments of Hang present some truly amazing songwriting, they just have to move on from the spectacle of what they brought together, and really focus on their strengths. Essentially, every song can’t sound like your magnum opus or it starts to feel overly melodramatic. They’ve got a lot to work with here for their next release, but this was only their “first proper studio album” after all.