By Nick Stout
Album: “…And Star Power”
Release Date: Oct. 14, 2014
California indie psych-pop duo Foxygen are back after last year’s critically acclaimed “We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic” with a new 82-minute double album entitled “…And Star Power.”
The majority of the material was recorded at Dream Star Studios in Los Angeles, which in actuality is band member Jonathon Rado’s garage. While the majority of the instrumentation and vocals are performed by multi-instrumentalist creative partners Sam France and Jonathon Rado, this album features a slew of guest stars including The Flaming Lips, White Fence, Bleached, Of Montreal and Carson Mell as members of an all-inclusive alter-ego punk band called Star Power.
Where last years full-length debut album from Foxygen was a modern take on classic bands of the ’60s like The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground and The Kinks, “…And Star Power” finds the band with a more relaxed ’70s AM radio vibe, while still holding qualities of those ’60s bands.
The more commercially appealing “hits” they get out of the way at the beginning of the album, like “How Can You Really” and “Coulda Been My Love,” sound like they could have been plucked from the airwaves of an oldies station.
“Coulda Been My Love” includes a slide guitar in the chorus reminiscent of George Harrison. “Cosmic Vibrations” features a vibrato induced electric organ and Sam France attempting his best Jim Morrison impression.
“You and I” finds the band playing with the Stones’ softer “Between the Buttons” era sound. With the four-part roman numeraled Star Power suite they have fun with guest stars in their all-inclusive punk band alter ego. However, the only section of this suite that sounds like a classic punk song at all is “Star Power II: Star Power Nite.” On “I Don’t have Anything/The Gate,” Foxygen seek refuge in the melancholic folk-tinged power pop experimentation of Big Star’s Third.
One album “…And Star Power” could draw comparisons to stylistically would be Todd Rundgren’s “Something/Anything?”. It has the same tendencies towards ’70s soft rock built around sunny piano and keyboard melodies and both let themselves indulge in more challenging experiments, as well as heavier rock, in later parts of the album.
They also have similar levels of scope. The concluding section of the Star Power suite, “Star Power IV: ooh ooh,” sounds like it could have easily been inspired by Rundgren’s “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” from “Something/Anything?” Both are also double albums mostly performed instrumentally by the creative forces themselves. On the other hand, “…And Star Power” features some songs outside Rundgren’s sound and vice versa.
On “Flowers,” the band toys with ’60s sunshine psych-pop harnessed by bands like The Millenium. “Wallys Farm” is experimentation in goofy, flangey, twangy sounds with a Pink Floydesque phaser placed over disjointed keyboard noodling.
“Cannibal Holocaust” slips into a melancholy country ballad then trails off into Rundgren style up-tempo piano rock before revisiting the piano line of “How Can You Really” as a little reminder of the cleaner upbeat sounds of the beginning of the record. It’s a clever way to reward the listener for staying with the journey.
The second half of this double album features numbers that have a heavier ’60s sound. Opening track “Cold Winter/Freedom” is a dark psychedelic soundscape with eerie keyboards, cymbal crashes, dark pulsations, futuristic laser noises and a Velvet Underground style one-note-piano rock ‘n’ roll frenzy with spurts of feedback. The track culminates in Sam France saying “A million dead dogs in space in spaceships floating around listening to Led Zeppelin, feeling f#*&*ng triumphant and god will not forget a single one of them” with spaceship noises bleeping and blooping around his warbling voice before ending in one final low keyboard pulse.
“Can’t Conceptualize My Mind” showcases a Stones-inspired, laid-back swagger, while also letting itself unravel in a disjointed way, similar to The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
“Brooklyn Police Station” continues on similar territory with a bedroom garage-rock romper. These songs provide something for those who prefer the more upbeat numbers from the band’s previous record.
The mood slips back into melancholy briefly for “The Game” before turning aggressive again with a whirlwind of echoes and screams over a driving rock number called “Talk.”
The album ends on two last breaths of hope in the Wings and Badfinger-inspired “Everyone Needs Love” and the velvety ’60s psych-rock stumbling of “Hang.”
Many bands that find themselves in a position of success like this band’s would play it safe and merely try to extend on the ideas that made the last record a hit. “…And Star Power” feels more like Foxygen is trying to make a record to keep themselves interested.
They shove a lot of ideas into this album, instead of boring the listener with an idea that is stretched out for way too long. After all, greater risk means greater rewards and, in this case, greater interest. Many great artists evolve and will take a leap in order to set themselves apart from the pack. Foxygen is no exception.