It's Foxygen, those goofy psych-rockers with a penchant for the 60s and maybe also flowers! They haven't released a record since their well loved 'We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic', but they promise this one -- named 'Star Power' after an imaginary radio station they made up -- is as good, if more punk, and also a little more soft rock. A nice contradiction, if you ask me.
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They come in peace, or something. Sam France and Jonothan Rado's newest record is a loose concept album (or, if you like, an excuse to make something as long as 'The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway') based around what happens when you flick through radio stations in outer space. They abide by this concept well, at times, allowing songs to stop and start with what sound like little cosmic changeovers, or just by switching from heavy psych screamers that recall the Flaming Lips on 'Embryonic' to sparsely strummed ballads. Ultimately, it makes '...And Star Power' the definition of a mixed bag, moving between boisterous psych pop, both modern and ancient, and the lonesome, less expansive solo home recordings of weirdo acts like true wizard Todd Rundgren and jangle pop hero R. Stevie Moore. Sure, there's a frenetic, four-suited tune that could beat out "Close To The Edge" for ridiculous melodious handovers and virtuoso nonsense, but there's also a song in which Rado sings "Why doesn't anyone love me?" over and over. Basically, '...And Star Power' is a bit excessive. It's best described as "a lot".
While he's singing that particular lyric, the rest of the band look on, offering up vacant vocal harmonies that show little actual interest for Rado's self-pity (which is probably because the sadness sounds to '70s to be real). This is how '...And Star Power' feels overall: along with its purposely obscured production and overwhelming tectonic jams, the band sound kinda tired of what it is to be in Foxygen. Sam France sounds phenomenally bored on "How Can You Really", placating the excited piano chords with a mumbling, unfazed vocal that sounds like she'd rather be at home watching TV than appearing on a concept album about the radio in outer space. Rado still sounds pretty into it, at least, doing his best imitation of Lou Reed on the third part of "Star Power", where he twists the song from a lurid spoken word monologue to a bubblegum pop singalong.
'...And Star Power' isn't the worst of the weird, this year -- Ariel Pink is doing a pretty good job of reviving that period in the early 2000s where indie rock was best served stupid -- but its whimsical switch-ups go on the longest. With this double disc, Foxygen's mode of operation seems to be that they have to change instruments and directions as much as Peter Gabriel did costumes. As they get to their second disc, they decide to turn the thing into a kid's cartoon/drone crossover, opener "Cold/Winter Freedom" insisting, in a squeaky voice, that you "get your butt ready" as industrial percussion squeals in pain. Straight after that? A psych folk tune. At some point, psych rock's gotta have an editor. '...And Star Power' needs a few less ellipses.
7/10 Penrith Steve Customer review, 14th October 2014
After two listens of Foxygen’s latest offering I was pretty disappointed. I thought it was indecipherable mush and I had the impression that they simply weren’t ready to make the sprawling spacey double concept album that they’d set out to make. It seemed like a lot of loose ends, the ideas were lacking execution and the songs required more work. But as with Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica”, persistence was the key.
Things start promisingly, the album announcing itself with the Who-meets-glam intro before “How Can We Really”, which is a decent Foxygen pop song. “Coulda Been My Love” sounds like an attempt to recreate a slice of Todd Rundgren’s classic “Something/Anything” LP, at first I thought that it was wide of the mark, but a few listens in, and I’m liking it. More Rundgren influences are evident in “Cannibal Holocaust” and “Wally’s Farm”. “Cosmic Vibrations” has a few nice moments over its five minutes and sounds like Ween as much as any of the obvious 70s influences. “You & I” almost sounds like Rod Stewart’s “I Don’t Want to Talk about It” but does rescue itself by retuning to the cosmic psychedelia we’re getting used to by now.
Next there’s the four part Star Power opus. “Star Power II” reminds me of Syd Barratt era Pink Floyd. “Star Power III” is a Velvet Underground pastiche breaking into a psychedelic pop chorus. “Star Power IV” is quite pleasant, but it’s one minute fifty seconds long and just a snapshot of something that could have been better.
“Hot Summer” pastiches sleazy New York again by sounding as much like Suicide as anything ever has. “Mattress Warehouse” is great with its metronomic Can-style drum and bass working throughout with an ethereal melody floating above.
This album takes its cues from late 60s psychedelia, “I Don’t Have Anything” makes me think of Skip Spence. Olivia Tremor Control’s “Dusk At The Cubist Castle” due to its sprawling presentation of psychedelic wig-outs studded with pop diamonds must be an influence. Trumans Water’s “Spasm Smash Xxxoxox Ox and Ass” gets a nod of recognition as songs like “666” are of that ilk. Most obviously, the influence of Todd Rundgren’s “Something/Anything” and “A Wizard, A True Star” is present in spades. It’s not as good as all the albums I have mentioned here, but I am relieved that after my first few listens there is something to chew on. Buy it, let it sink in and let it grow.
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