REVIEW: FOXYGEN – HANG (2017)
Hang is an album of hope: stay strong, follow your dreams, believe in yourself, don’t give up– hang in there.
The lyrics to Hang closer, “Rise Up,” say it all: “It’s time to wake up early/ Start taking care of your health/ And start doing all the hard things/ And believe in yourself/ And follow your own heart, if nothing else/ And listen to your own dreams/ Nobody else’s will do, will do.” That’s a genuine, meaningful and uplifting message. Positive direction and guidance we can always use more of in our lives. At the source of this wonderful, rich album theme is Sam France and Jonathon Rado, the eccentric Foxygen duo.
I’ve seen the L.A. band perform live twice. The first was in the summer of 2013, following the band’s excellent breakout release, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. I saw them again in April 2015, as part of Foxygen’s …And Star Power supporting tour and pseudo “Farewell Tour.” I would describe both shows as exciting, bizarre, tacky, theatrical, entertaining, and more or less, fun.
Foxygen is a band that likes antics. Breakup rumors, fake farewell tours, onstage theatrics, Disney singalongs—it’s as if France and Rado are portraying characters of themselves and Foxygen is the play. There are lesser bands out there that need to rely on this sort of showmanship for publicity, relevancy, or just plain attention. However, Foxygen is not one of those bands. They are too talented. And Hang further reinforces the craftsmanship of the songs that exist behind the glitter, pranks and over-the-top production.
Of course, Hang has its share of tunes that could accompany a musical. Lead single “America” boasts epic and rousing ambition; the track itself can magnificently score a five-minute movie from start to finish. Yet, as a standalone song, it loses focus a bit with its menacing waves and whimsical peaks. “Avalon” is chipper and bright, fresh out of a vaudeville show. Much of it shines like a Broadway B Side, but the unrestrained horn outro doesn’t fail to resonate.
Every track on the album features a 40+ symphony orchestra, so the drama, intrigue and glee is never too far away on Hang. Thankfully though, the production isn’t always center stage. Album highlight “On Lankershim,” first and foremost, glows with the classic-rock hue that has become a much beloved component of Foxygen’s sound. The orchestra is still present, but serves complimentary to the well-crafted melody and France’s lyrical pleas on revisiting the dream: “Well I know I can make it back, ‘cause I’m only 25/ And my friend, she’s only 20/ And she’s an actress and so far/ She said, you know, she said she can get me parts.”
“Mrs. Adams” thrives on an immediate, frenzied hook and commanding Bowie-inspired baritone. “Trauma” corrals the mighty orchestral swings into pure preaching and heroic high fives. As Ambassadors’ “On Blue Mountain” brilliantly showcased, Foxygen can go big and pull it off, and “Trauma” is another noble representation.
For much of their career, Foxygen has gone out of their way to secure themselves as a band you shouldn’t take seriously. In a way, their fourth album, with its often theatrical composition, continues the charade. However, on Hang, France and Rado can only dig their hole so deep. Talent and hard work, true intentions and sincerity have a way of showing through. A lot of joke bands settle for making meaningless joke albums, but Foxygen hasn’t yet; they still care too much about their music, they still have too much hope.