Review: Foxygen’s Hang Revives the Retro Simplicity of Their Best Work
For an act once steeped in psychedelia, Foxygen have always had a clear-eyed presence. Back in 2013, the alleged ambassadors of Peace & Magic cut through the noise of a million West Coast competitors by paring down dusty, fuzz-drenched staples into the tightest of summerset euphorias, all while finding new terrain in revivalism. But following the breakthrough, the band hit some rather glaring setbacks. In the midst of the extensive touring that followed the release, the duo of Sam France and Jonathan Rado came under fire for allegations of domestic abuse surrounding former touring member Elizabeth le Fey and her relationship with France. A series of confrontations between the three erupted into a court-ordered restraining order and “excommunication” from the band, as Fey returned to her solo material as Globelamp.
In an extended blog post (now removed), Fey suggested that amongst all the extenuating conflict, fame had left the band bitter and on-edge, now more committed to fulfilling contractual obligations than to making the actual music. In Foxygen’s work, this compulsory commitment became increasingly evident; In 2014, the pair returned with …And Star Power, a massive 24-track double-LP that strung the successes of We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic into an exhausting mix of the same sounds, now in doses too drawn out and diluted for even the biggest retromaniacs.
In hindsight, so much of what worked for the band was a formula as indebted to brevity as it was nostalgia. Hang, their latest, finds Foxygen as the pop act they always could have been, as they return to the simplicity of their breakthrough in a number of unexpected ways. In an era so thoroughly glutted with surf and garage rock revival, one easy option is to sprint in the other direction. Hang shows a side of the band freed from the tyranny of the garage, sidestepping the faults of …And Star Power with a heavy dose of classic studio splendor. Here, they’ve crafted a shag and wood-grained interior as remarkably indebted to its predecessors as it is now warm and full and huge.
Packing horns, strings, and woodwinds into a highlight reel of ’70s glam and #dadjams, Hang looks through a different historical lens, more indebted to the smooth lounge pop of Steely Dan than the Stones’ scuzzy affect. Recorded directly to tape at Electro Vox Studios in Los Angeles, the album features a full symphony arranged by Trey Pollard and Matthew E. White, with additional contributions from members of the Flaming Lips and Lemon Twigs.
The careful attempt to accentuate the biggest moments of each song shows that with a little work, the band still has something masterful. Tracks like “Avalon” and “America” run wild by indulging in all the most idiomatic elements of the orchestra in a rich, heart-wrenching Aerosmith sort of way. Others like “On Lankershim” layer riffs that wouldn’t feel out of place on an Elton John or Van Morrison song, as France shifts from cartoony affectations to rosy, Rumors-esque harmonies. The track slows to a half-speed stupor as France sings of the rockstar lifestyle, slurring something about an actress who “said she can get me paaarts.”
At the same time, Bowie’s influence still resonates deeply throughout the release; “Mrs. Adams” embraces all the campy extravagance of some Hunky Dory deep-cuts, while “Trauma,” an eerie template of Bowie at his “Lady Stardust” best, bellows with a low and astoundingly present vibrato, tighter and more developed than ever heard from the act. Once shrill and scrappy, France’s voice now finds a daring, incredible new range—a croon that not only looks back to the biggest of big-budget studio rock anthems, but also perhaps toward a future alongside a budding generation of recent studio revivalists. They’ve revealed themselves to be surprisingly versatile, capable of stripping back all the rock star excesses for something that makes a little more sense.