Pastiche or parody, Foxygen is much more than the sum of its parts | WBEZ
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Jim DeRogatis

Pastiche or parody, Foxygen is much more than the sum of its parts

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While we can debate whether the L.A. duo Foxygen specializes in loving homage or snarky parody, no one can deny that vocalist Sam France and guitarist-keyboardist Jonathan Rado, both fresh-faced lads of a mere 22, are masters of the well-pilfered musical reference. In fact, a drinking game where you win a shot every time you catch a nod to a hero from their vast record collections will leave you passed out in a puddle of puke if not suffering alcohol poisoning a few songs into We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, their second proper album.
My favorites may be France’s spot-on Dylan ramble in “No Destruction” or the perfect T. Rex groove paired with the Prince-sings-Lovin’ Spoonful vocals of “Oh Yeah”; yours might be the Cramps rip in the title track or the We Are the Village Green Preservation Society vibe of “In the Darkness.” But these are esoteric matters and ultimately just distractions; we’d never bother considering them if those tunes and every other track on this disc weren’t instantly unforgettable and flat-out brilliant. And inviting us to parse influences seems to rank pretty low among Foxygen’s goals; like all great psychedelic-pop bands, this one would rather we just turn off our minds, relax and float downstream. Or, as France sings in “No Destruction,” “There’s no need to be an a—hole/You’re not in Brooklyn anymore.”

Seemingly every critic who wrestles with this album quotes that line, and not only because it’s a very funny, too-true jab at the land of fauxhawks. More importantly, along with countless other cheeky toss-offs—a fair number of them aimed at the ’60s peace ’n’ love wonderland of fabled San Francisco—that jab illuminates Foxygen’s worldview: The pair shares those timeless psychedelic ambitions of inviting us to journey toward the white light while losing ourselves in the lush soundscapes between our headphones, but it never takes any of it too seriously or loses sight of the goofiness of it all. This is what distinguishes these two from the Elephant 6 posse, many of whom really were dedicated hippies, and puts them more in line with surrealist jokesters Beck or the Flaming Lips, two acts they began imitating over the course of a dozen home-recorded, self-released albums in their pre-history before signing to JagJaguwar for Take the Kids Off Broadway, the 2011 EP and the 2012 album.

At the end of the day, the ’60s band Foxygen most brings to mind is one never mentioned in reviews: fellow Angelinos Love. Like that group’s leader Arthur Lee, a man who could sneer a line like “the snot has caked against my pants” in the midst of the beautiful baroque sounds of Forever Changes, they have a sarcastic if not downright cynical take on psychedelic philosophy (and pretty much everything else) at the same time that they have an unerring facility for crafting gorgeous psychedelic sounds.

At least, that’s this listener’s take on things. As noted up top, we could debate whether the declaration about reading the Bible in “On Blue Mountain” (one of numerous religious evocations on the album) is sincere, or whether France and Rado love or hate the city Tony Bennett famously serenaded. But we’re much better off simply surrendering to the rollicking joys of the climactic ending of the former and admitting we’re smitten with those sexy, xylophone-laced call-and-response choruses of “San Francisco” (He: “I left my love in San Francisco”/She: “That’s okay, I was bored anyway”/He: “I left my love in the room”/She: That’s okay, I was born in L.A.”), because that is a heck of a lot more rewarding and much more fun.

Foxygen, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (JagJaguwar)

Rating on the four-star scale: Four stars.

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