by Chris Familton
Psychedelic music in its many forms has experienced a healthy renaissance in recent years. Sure it has never gone away but for a long time it was relegated back to the underground, the place where it first emerged. Now we have everything from wigged-out psych rock at the heavy end of the spectrum down to lightly tarnished psych folk, not too far removed from the prog folk of the 70s. Foxygen make a clear statement with the title of their album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, firmly placing themselves in the pantheon of laid-back, wistfully strummed indie folk music and flower power rock.
The duo of Jonathan Rado and Sam France have been working as Foxygen since 2005 but this feels like their coming of age in terms of the best realisation of their eclectic potpourri of fantastical lyrics and endlessly inventive musical backdrops. When the band rein in their restless tendencies they sound like the perfect pop band. No Destruction is the finest example of this with its slouching, slack-handed vibe that sounds like Dylan smoking pot and jamming with The Clean. Those Dylan tendencies lie firmly in the songs’ vocal affectations that verge on pastiche but work perfectly with the vibe of the song.
Elsewhere Foxygen doff their caps to many of their other influences and that is where the album starts unraveling and losing some of its charm and originality. On Blue Mountain borrows the chorus melody from Suspicious Minds, In The Darkness photocopies horns, lyrics and sound effects from Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and San Francisco reworks the themes of Scott McKenzie’s song of the same name. Influences are unavoidable and musical references are often highly effective if done well but these feel like naive attempts that reinforce a false cosmic hippy sensibility that pervades the album when taken as a whole.
One of the record’s redeeming features is the stellar production work of Richard Swift who is fast becoming a sought after producer (Damien Jurado, Laetitia Sadier) alongside his own musical output. He brings an authentic air to the compositions, particularly the rhythm section that sounds warm, organic and alive. In many cases the songs would be more enjoyable sans vocals, allowing them to create their own polymorphic landscapes without the saccharine voices over the top.
All that said, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic is still a good album. The first single Shuggie is one of its best moments with its sweet swinging melody while they show potential in the generally unexplored territory of heavy riffing funk in the vein of Beck meets Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. This album is steeped in the type of outsider pop music Syd Barrett, Daniel Johnston and Devendra Banhart trade in and in that context Foxygen have succeeded in paying tribute to that list of musical auteurs with their own mixed bag of eclectic optimism.
this review was first published on undertheradar.co.nz