In somewhat uncharacteristic fashion I’ve managed to snag an album released this year, (What? Already!? You’ve only had 34 days to do it!) and one that’s been talked about a fair bit in the appropriate circles. Not only that, but it’s garnered some considerable praise in that time, not unjustifiably. Foxygen, the Californian experimental rock duo, gave me this little peach last week and I can’t stop listening to it. It’s infectious, it’s fun and it’s supremely well crafted. The duo are bursting with confidence (some could argue too much confidence) and a genuine knack for songwriting that allowed me to hear a few of the best new songs I’ve heard in a while, all on the one album. A good three of the nine songs on this album, I’m convinced, are new classics and aren’t going to be bettered by too much in the next eleven months. I say this with an unblemished reputation of not keeping up with the current music scene mind you, so it’s likely that what I’ve just written will not stand the test of time. Still you get my point – this album is good.
Firstly I’d like to get something out of the way, because if I could write pages on this entire point if I could: this album is like a time machine. Listening to it for the first time I was stunned (and naturally very pleased) at how closely this album captured some of the sounds of the 60’s, with echoes of and references to The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, The Zombies, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie et cetera et cetera. Vocalist Sam France’s voice even sounds eerily close to Lou Reed on VU’s self-titled at times, other times sneering like Jagger and crooning like Dylan. The spirit of the summer of love is hauled to present day consciousness with the album’s lush arrangements and upbeat, psychedelic leanings. To hear an album like this in 2013 naturally put a smile on my face. But at the risk of sounding like a Laudator temporis acti, I must stress that this album’s merits do not come solely from this fact, nor is this necessarily a good thing anyway. Anyone with an extensive knowledge of a subject can piece together in-jokes and references and emulate certain styles that they like – that doesn’t make it good. More often than not it’ll just come across as a hugely self-indulgent, jumbled mess that has no point and doesn’t have any reason to exist except to give its creator some fetishistic satisfaction. But I must reiterate – not here. Despite incorporating some familiar sounds, the music sounds fresh and original, and very 21st Century. Comrade in words, Steve, noted that the album has no drive, nothing to send it roaring to its purposeful conclusion, and that’s a valid criticism, although not one I necessarily agree with. In effect it’s this contemplativeness and relative smoothness of its many edges that separates WAT21CAoP&M (hell of an abbreviation) from sounding just like a carbon copy of these 60’s rock legends. And personally I think this is a very contemporary concept: things aren’t as carefree as they were in back then, we’re more aware of the consequences of drug use and promiscuity, Health and Safety has made an artifact of common sense, the recession has curbed spending, and we’re all just that little bit more cautious. Having said that, we’re not living in a time of repression, realistically, and there’s still plenty of fun to be had – it’s just different. This attitude of caution and a slight degree of inhibition is evident in the nature of the music – but hey, it’s still fun, it’s still energetic and upbeat. A good reflection of our times methinks, with enough nostalgia to look back and two feet firmly grounded in reality to keep the music relevant.
|Foxygen by Angel Ceballos|
The fact is that, if your ears are well-travelled, you cannot think of WAT21CAoP&M without being aware of the similarities between it and some of this older music. It permeates too deeply, it’s as woven into this album as string on a tapestry. But the songs themselves are so strong that this doesn’t become a hindrance or an annoyance: it just becomes a genuine pleasure. Ballads like No Destruction and Oh Yeah are confident, sweet and extremely beautiful, sculpted together in a majestic manner: the latter in particular offering an extremely poignant chorus, echoing The Band, in contrast to the mid-tempo guitar licks of the rest of the song. Despite the difference the song never does anything but work, and work well. The two current singles, Shuggie and San Francisco, give another great example of the duo’s aptitude for taking familiar sounds and crafting them into a perfectly stylized, intelligent, poignant and enjoyable pop song. If there’s one thing I can say in criticism of this approach it’s that the flow of the album suffers as a result: at times it comes across more as a collection of singles than as a cohesive collection: furthermore, the title track and Bowling Trophies are such abrupt changes of style that they don’t really fit in, as much as I enjoy the title track. It’s a burst of raucous, disinhibited energy that’s a lot of fun, but doesn’t really add much to the collection. Nevertheless, it’s actually the song that made me pay attention to the album in the first place, so I owe it that.
Like I say, we’re only in February but I can’t imagine an album coming along this year that I’ll enjoy more. My opinion of course is as valid as that of a duck, but I’m giving it anyway in the hope that someone will pay attention. We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is a fun, gratifying and intelligent album and one that I’ll be (figuratively) spinning for years to come I’m sure.
Words – Adam.