Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog in which writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers each week.
One of the primary issues in writing about great rock ‘n’ roll bands is that there’s an element of intangible energy in the songs that simply doesn’t translate well onto the page. And while it’s harder to find many new galvanizing rock bands in any traditional sense, manic ‘60s revivalists Foxygen are certainly ready to fill the void with their unique brand of vibrant, experimental rock n roll.
Set to release their official debut full-length “We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic” on Jagjaguwar on Jan. 22, the Los Angeles duo consisting of multi-instrumentalists Sam France and Jonathan Rado formed in 2005 when they were 15, and made ten self-recorded and distributed records before they graduated high school. After a brief college hiatus, the group reunited and released “Take The Kids Off Broadway” on Jagjaguwar.
While the group gained has gained significant attention since Broadway’s release for their vintage aesthetic and faithful appropriation of Lou Reed, David Bowie and The Rolling Stones, the key to the EP’s success lies less in homage than in pure exuberance.
Foxygen’s honest reinterpretation of classic rock icons is led by France’s dynamic vocals, which range from growl to riff to frantic yelp just in the span of “Make It Known” (download it here). These schizophrenic shifts, from aggressive to whimsical to paranoid are products of the duo’s off-the-rails musicianship.
Songs such as “Teenage Alien Blues” change keys, tempos, and major instrumentation without warning, veering between original and reoccurring melodies. The complex song structure helps not only to differentiate the duo from some of their rock forefathers, but also to unhinge them from expectation and breathe fresh, unpredictable energy into their songs.
For detractors who think that Broadway’s piece-y songwriting is a amateur’s stroke of luck, Foxygen’s more recent releases hint at quality prolificacy. In Nov. 6, they reposted their three-song EP 2011 for free download on Bandcamp which showcases a softer, more off-kilter psychedelic pop side of the group, more in line with The Beatles or Olivia Tremor Control. The first single “Shuggie” off Ambassadors is similar, fusing lounge-pop verses to bizarre funk breakdowns to anthemic outros.
When writing about music, less experienced critics and journalists have the tendency to gush, piling on as many adjectives and adverbs as possible to capture every sonic detail. And with an artist like Foxygen, this is somewhat necessary when attempting to show every element of the band’s complex musicianship, humor, and vague social commentary. But it’s easy to forget that the reason the band is worth listening to is the feeling. It’s the raucous pop music that remembers what rock ‘n’ roll does better than any other genre: captures the spirit of youth and vitality. The duo’s potency is their charisma and their product is interesting, vibrant music.
By Maxwell Tani