It is a time where the single is king and albums are far and few between – just think, we’ve only actually had two albums from Lady Gaga since she was trebucheted down our throats clad in pretense and wigs in 2008, but, from those, she’s released ten singles (not including those from her lengthy Fame Monster EP). So then, how is it that Foxygen have had two records since July 2012? The Californian duo have been churning out EPs together since their inception in 2005, paying homage to their favourite acts of the ’60s and ’70s and carving their own niche of indie-glam. Yes, nostalgia is very in right now, and people love remembering their sepia-toned youth/pretending they remember the ’80s, but sometimes Foxygen sound rather too much like they’re doing covers of their Dads’ collection of dusty LPs. That said, there are portions of We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Music that are excellent, (albeit not the title).
‘Shuggie’, the lead single, is a tempo-bending cut with aged synths and funky guitars, weaving spider-like rhythms with speak-singing about rhinoceros shaped earrings and tea drinking. Sam France (vocals) manages to sound utterly confused at points, as when singing “You don’t love me, that’s news to me”, and yet swaggerously in control of the cacophony during the chorus or the funk breakdown, his flexible voice a guiding beacon for the flippant noises: larger-than-life, a bit eerie and just downright awesome. The title track races with grooving guitar motifs, a nonsensical myriad of howls delivered in a spot-on Jagger guise with a rampaging beat; it’s a classic, retro effort, again featuring intriguing, beguiling time-shifts. This is sexy rock’n'roll, just like they made back in the day.
The incessant harping back towards influences is hit and miss, though they’re clearly having a whale of a time doing their Dylan and Bowie impressions. Sometimes, like on ‘Shuggie’ and the title track, it all just gels, exactly in the way that instant classics do; on others, like opener ‘Into The Darkness’ and ‘No Destruction’, it feels like a weak attempt to fill in the silence by having a go at replicating their idols. That said, Cobain wouldn’t have written the iconic ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ if he weren’t trying to copy ‘Debaser’ by the Pixies, so impersonations can pay off. The cloying child choirs on ‘On A Mountain’, however, are just plain creepy behind the dissonant hurricane of guitars and Jonathan Rado’s keys.
At only nine tracks long, this doesn’t feel like a full album, stopping just short of being long enough. Just as it really gets going and starts shining, it splutters and finishes, leaving a sort of empty feeling. This is possibly because of a weak-ish opening, forgettable when placed next to the latter half of the LP. Where they have started crafting their own sound, they need to rocket down that path, surprising us like they do on ‘Shuggie’ – after the record’s done, you’re left craving a richer sonic identity, something more unique and less focused on the past. Influences are all fine and dandy, but don’t let them overtake your own sound.
Maybe they should take a leaf from Gaga’s book, and wait until it’s absolutely necessary to release a full-length. Just because you have material, doesn’t mean you should release it – it should always be quality over quantity.