Embedded within the detailed credits to Foxygen’s …And Star Power is this revelation from guitarist/band co-founder Jonathan Rado: “During our recording process, our only true heated argument was over this song.” The identity of the song in question is immaterial; the very fact Rado felt the need to downplay any perceived infighting with vocalist/foil Sam France speaks volumes about the reputation their band has acquired—one that’s unruly enough to seemingly require some liner-note damage control. Following the release of 2013’s critical success We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, Foxygen seemed to pack a career’s worth of triumphs and travesties into a single album cycle—and, as such,
…And Star Power translates all the exhilaration and exhaustion the band has experienced over the past two years into an unwieldy, 24-song splatter that often sounds like a band at war with itself. It’s as if Foxygen is issuing a challenge to all the rubberneckers in the audience by saying, “You think we’re a trainwreck? You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Coming from a band that has chalked up its many concert cancellations and onstage meltdowns to tour-induced fatigue, …And Star Power aptly approximates the dislocating sensation of strung-out, sleepless nights in posh hotel rooms that have had the Do Not Disturb sign dangling on the outer-door handle for several days, with moments of lucid (if bleary eyed) introspection regularly giving way to flashes of fever-dream psychosis. The raucous opening warm-up exercise is titled “Star Power Airlines”, a nostalgic nod to that bygone era when rock bands could become popular enough to acquire their own jet fleets, but also a telling indicator of the many random recording locations—from the Chateau Marmont in L.A. to The Magic Shop in New York—that lend this album a whirlwind tour itinerary of its own.
Despite its double-album girth, …And Star Power feels less like a ’70s-rock masterwork than a ’90s indie patchwork in the tradition of Pavement’s Wowee Zowee, Sebadoh’s III, the Olivia Tremor Control’s Dusk at Cubist Castle, and Ween’s earliest brown-outs. This is an album you get lost inside—you don’t so much listen to its four-sided sprawl as free-fall into its increasingly deranged depths. Its kitchen-sink messthetic (parts of which were rendered in Rado’s actual kitchen) encompasses pristine power pop, stoner country-rock, a four-part title-track suite (overture included) that introduces the band’s punk-alter-ego-cum-pirate-radio-station Star Power, space-age bachelor-pad synth doodles, Lou Reed-copping junkie poetry, acid-folk rambles reminiscent of Syd Barrett, Feelies-esque jabber-jangle; and a song that sounds like Suicide crashing a Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach party. And that’s all before we’ve even reached Side Three (the one accurately subtitled “Scream: A Journey Through Hell”).
In its most fully realized moments, …And Star Power is the album Todd Rundgren could’ve released between Something/Anything? and A Wizard, a True Star, its best songs striking an uncanny balance between the exquisite balladry of the former and the progged-out fantasias of the latter. True, the Runt referentialism is beyond blatant: lead single “How Can You Really” is a perfect mirror reflection of “I Saw the Light”, while “Star Power IV: Ooh Ooh” distills the candlelit intimacy of “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” into a quick post-coital cuddle. (The press release for …And Star Power actually summarizes the album’s ethos—“rock and roll for the skull”—by quoting Patti Smith’s original Creem magazine review of A Wizard, a True Star. Even this band’s self-aggrandizement comes second-hand.)
But for all their shameless appropriation, Foxygen have become increasingly assured and accomplished songwriters, outfitting standouts like “Coulda Been My Love” (the ironically serene source of the intra-band acrimony mentioned at the top of this review), “Cannibal Holocaust”, and “Everyone Needs Love” not just with silken soft-focus melodies and heavenly harmonies, but ever-evolving arrangements that steer the songs into surprising, splendorous new directions without losing the throughline. At their best, a Foxygen song is like that drunk who seems destined to topple over, only to turn their stumble into a perfect pirouette.
If We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic completed Foxygen’s long-gestating evolution from private recording project to proper band, …And Star Power expands their universe to even greater degree, placing them at the epicenter of a modern psych-rock constellation that includes the Flaming Lips, Of Montreal, White Fence, and L.A. fuzz-popsters Bleached, all of whom make guest appearances here. (And, as if to acknowledge their place on the storied madcap continuum, they give shout-outs to Skip Spence and Kim Fowley in the liners.) At certain points, Foxygen’s generosity of spirit goes beyond merely accommodating a cameo to outright handing over the reins of their album to third parties: the brass-knuckled “Star Power III: What Are We Good For” begins with a Kevin Barnes dispatch live from the corner of Lexington and 125, and Foxygen even admit in the liners they’re entirely not sure what he’s yapping about. The Lips’ Steven Drozd is credited with composing the analog-synth strut “Mattress Warehouse”, while the adrenalizing freakbeat rave-up “Brooklyn Police Station” features White Fence’s Tim Presley in so many different capacities (bass, guitar, harmonies), it’s no surprise the song ends up sounding like it was plucked outright from one of his albums.
Tellingly, the self-produced …And Star Power is Foxygen’s first Jagjaguwar release made without their mentor Richard Swift behind the boards, and while the album shows France and Rado can no doubt craft classic-rock-radio-caliber songs without his compositional expertise, their reactionary attempts at punky aggression and noise experimentation come off as half-baked. Particularly in the album’s back half, it starts to feel like Foxygen decided to make
…And Star Power a double album before writing the necessary number of songs to justify one, stuffing the gaps with frivolous filler that wouldn’t be able stand on its own outside of the record’s crazy-quilt framework. And so the lo-fi doom-metal-drone-cum-garage-skronk of “Cold Winter/Freedom” (the wrought-iron gateway into the aforementioned “Scream” side) rambles on for six tuneless minutes, while counterpart track “Freedom II” and “Talk” drive their Nuggets-schooled grooves into the ground through incessant, nonsensical hollering and abrupt structural shifts that don’t so much yield a dramatic effect as betray their lack of direction. Such regressions may be intended to serve as the freaked-out flipside to …And Star Power’s more meditative material, but Foxygen’s “Journey Through Hell” ultimately sounds less like therapeutic catharsis than aimless dicking around for yuks in the practice space.
But for Foxygen, such violent pendulum swings prove to be the musical manifestation of an
eccentric spirit they once conveyed lyrically. What ultimately elevated We Are the 21st Century beyond mere classic-rock karaoke was France’s playfully wry observations, which infused Foxygen’s retro affinities with a distinctly modern-day sensibility and irreverence. …And Star Power, however, works the other way: the anarchic sound world is grounded by more sobering songwriting, with France’s once-prominent voice left to float in the psychedelic soup—which means you won’t find any instantly quotable zingers here on par with “No Destruction”. But while France’s words may be more nondescript this time out, the band’s tumultuous recent history suggests platitudes like “You’ve got to hang on”, “How am I going to make it with you?”, and “Where must we go again to become friends?” are genuine, necessary pleas for sanity and serenity.
Accordingly, the impenetrable “Cold Winter/Freedom” is preceded by an endearing little snippet of an eight-year-old France’s earliest recording forays, wherein he acts as the on-air announcer for his own imaginary radio station. “Hold onto your butts and get ready!” little Sam declares, and, in essence, …And Star Power is Foxygen’s attempt to recapture that sort of innocence and wide-eyed enthusiasm after a prolonged, public struggle to keep their shit together. But the retroactive warning is nonetheless appreciated: …And Star Power is a long, bumpy ride back to where Foxygen once belonged, and, at times, your butt is bound to feel sore.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1s8zkuG