Foxygen is back with a grandiose love letter to America
Sam France and Jonathan Rado, the duo behind arch, hyper-kinetic pop provocateur Foxygen, are attempting to explain the unhinged, grandiose vision that lies at the heart of their latest album, Hang.
“It’s hyper-American music,” says Rado. “Hyper-American music.”
“Yeah,” says France. “We wanted it to be grand, cinematic. We envisioned it as a film, a huge musical film, and so, yeah, that’s what we made.”
“Like, we were definitely thinking of ’30s Hollywood musicals and imagery,” says Rado. “With ’70s production. Someone trying to do the ’30s in the ’70s, that was the angle. Or like Xanadu, kinda ballroom dancing pop.”
Recorded with Matthew E. White, kindred spirits the Lemon Twigs, Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd (who was featured on their last album and now appears to be an auxiliary member of sorts) and Trey Pollard, it’s the band’s first “studio album” proper and just happens to feature a 40-piece orchestra on every track because, well, why the hell not? It is—and this is said with no little amount of understatement—a ridiculously ambitious, ludicrously ornate, overblown behemoth of a record. As musically restless as ever, Hang touches on a good deal of Foxygen’s beloved ’70s reference points. There’s Todd Rundgren (of course), Sticky Fingers-era Stones, Elton John, the Carpenters, Sly And The Family Stone—frequently, it would seem, within the same song.
And the band has gone Broadway, taking the aforementioned influences and adding a hefty dose of hallucinogenic vaudeville and Busby Berkeley musicals on bad acid. It’s a spiraling trip through Disney, Looney Tunes and a bizarre twilight zone where Bugsy Malone meets The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In short, the LP is by turns magnificent and maddening, flitting continuously from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Those who love Foxygen will love the band more, if only for the playfulness, irreverence and sheer gaudy spectacle of it all. Those who hate Foxygen (and there are plenty of haters out there) are only going to have their preconceptions reinforced. Indeed, it would be safe to say Hang could tip them over into bug-eyed, spittle-flecked rage. France in particular seems to revel in his role as arch provocateur, and he’s at his most foppish here, an eyebrow permanently raised, flouncing shamelessly. At times you could be forgiven in suspecting they’re hellbent on provoking a reaction from the more earnest of indie-rock purists, a performance-art duo that set out consciously to offend. Rado, however, remains adamant that they’re utterly sincere.
“I think there’s a really big misconception about Foxygen for a lot of people,” he says. “I mean, there’s an authenticity to what we do. We take the craft very seriously and, OK, so sometimes it does end up funny, but it’s never ironic. We don’t do irony. If we’re going to do something on a record, we do it the right way, because we’ve studied this shit for years and years. We take making our records very, very seriously.”
Foxygen, despite Rado’s protestations, retains the unerring ability to wind up the musical cognoscenti—these guys aren’t earnest enough, they’re scatterbrained pranksters, they lack “authenticity.”
“Look, it’s like this,” says France. “We’re meta, all right? We’re a little bit meta, and that really annoys people. With our songs and music, we jump in and out of the record. Like, we’re never afraid to manifest our personality in the music, and we embrace it. We’re just doing it as artists, and I know that sounds really pretentious, but it is art, you know? Do you remember when Lana Del Rey came on the scene and was on Letterman or whatever and people just trashed her? I mean, really trashed her. Everyone was just losing their shit. And I watched footage of her and everyone’s like, “Oooh, she sings out of tune!” but I thought she was really great. It ages like good rock ’n’ roll footage. I mean, fine, so she’s not refined in her singing or whatever, but there’s something there. But people are like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ When something massive comes around, people don’t know what to think. It makes them scared, which leads to criticism, right?”
France pauses, and without missing a beat, completely deadpan (but with an almost audible smirk), concludes, “So, basically, I think we’re just like Lana Del Rey.”