Rather than risk sounding predictable for once, Foxygen have predictably opted for a daring reinvention. ‘Hang’ is a curious record. It’s short, clocking in at just over half an hour, and the elephant in the room (and on all eight tracks), is the hulking presence of a 40-piece orchestra.
This is the band’s most irreverently theatrical work to date, with sweeping symphonic lifts and punchy horns taking centre stage as lead-singer Sam France dutifully combs through his dizzying rolodex of Bowie, Jagger, and Dylan impressions. Most of all, though, the new approach is surprising given what came before it.
2014’s ‘…And Star Power’ was a bloated behemoth — a double album that featured 24 tracks worth of wandering and often exhilarating rock ’n’ roll comfort food. If ‘…And Star Power’ is Foxygen’s tight-jeaned, unhinged rock star album, ‘Hang’ is their top hat-wearing, cane-twirling showtune.
Lead-single and album opener ‘Follow The Leader’ sounds reasonably familiar, and it’s not until the excellent ‘Avalon’ that ‘Hang’ really begins to distinguish itself, with France hitting his cinematic high-water mark in a stadium-sized rock opera.
Besides the ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’-esque filler track ‘Trauma’, ‘On Lankershim’ is the album’s most straightforward number, opening into a tumbleweed slide-guitar fantasy with one of France’s most infectious hooks on the album — “and it all but seems my lifetime dreams have ended / And I know some people hope they won’t come true.”
The record’s centrepiece is none other than the tritely titled ‘America’, which plays like a confused and satirical ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, devilishly jumping from horror movie strings to manic medieval tinkering, to funked-up ragtime. It bears the kind of Disney wit typical of Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, and makes you wonder if being cheesy ironically is still cheesy, or voila: suddenly innovative.
But, for all the talk of Christmas and heroes and Hollywood, ‘America’ and its frenetic Zappa-detouring does well to strike a balance between flamboyance and indulgence, rewarding repeat listens and sliding to the front of the queue of Foxygen’s most scattered and pleasantly distractible offerings yet.
For those holding out hope for another ‘We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic’, Foxygen’s latest collection is destined to be a major disappointment. Guitars are forced to stomach a supporting role alongside the undisputed star performer: the orchestra. It’s a bold move, and one that always ran the risk of alienating large pockets of listeners. But make no mistake, there’s nothing fundamentally unappealing about Foxygen’s orchestral approach on ‘Hang’.
Just look at Radiohead. ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ is arguably as polarising as ‘Hang’ in the sense that it was never made to appease the fans clamouring for another ‘OK Computer’ or ‘In Rainbows’. The major difference is that Radiohead’s past works — think “Pyramid Song” and “Spectre” — not to mention Jonny Greenwood’s budding career as a composer, have allowed the band to retain the building blocks of their sustained success while nuancing their approach enough to tactfully integrate the string sections that colour ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’.
Foxygen don’t do this, and the result is something that feels closer to an in-your-face, take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum than any kind of linear progression.
‘Hang’ is like an oversized bowl of mushy oatmeal: invigorating for just long enough to keep you from noticing how incredibly nauseous you’ve become. It’s overwhelming in its grandiosity, and though it has its virtues, Foxygen’s latest LP is best enjoyed as a bite-size hors d'oeuvre instead of a main course.
Words: Noveen Bajpai
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