Thriving as a music duo is traditionally quite difficult, with many groups often expanding with unofficial members to find a more welcoming sound. On their newest album, Foxygen have done just that.
Amongst the sea of intriguing artists signed to indie-rock label Jagjaguwar, Foxygen is the strangest — not because of their sound, but because of their lack of a breakout moment. Since 2005, the group produced a number of LPs and EPs, varying their sound quite drastically each time, but nothing caught on. Their most popular effort, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, was easily their worst, sounding like a rebrand of MGMT mixed with every generic rock ‘n’ roll staple imaginable. With their latest LP, Hang, the duo has gone in a completely different direction and expanded their repertoire to surprising results.
Key to this transformation is a full-blown orchestra. Foxygen members Sam France and Jonathan Rado incorporate everything from horns to cellos and violins to try to capture a sleek retro feeling, and for the most part, their attempts are successful. Their sound on this LP is absolutely enormous, larger than anything fans have heard from the duo. The best word to describe it is full — it feels like the sound Foxygen has always meant to create.
Tracks such as “Follow and Leader” and “On Lankershim” embody this fuller sound Foxygen has adapted, with horns and strings dominating the background of each song. These songs project Foxygen as a full band rather than two people. It feels like an evolution of their music rather than just another album where they spin their tires, tirelessly trying to drive home the same melodies with limited success.
However, not every song has a beautiful transformation with added orchestral arrangements. “Mrs. Adams” in particular becomes lost in this album’s colorful tracklisting, blending in because of a lack of originality compared to other songs. It draws heavily from the likes of David Bowie and Elton John but doesn’t distinguish itself with originality like many other tracks. Nonetheless, the orchestral arrangements across the entire album add an additional layer of passion and energy to Foxygen’s music that seemed to be lacking before.
Hang revolves around pop influences from the 1970s, bringing in tasteful spurts of rock to drive a bright moment home. The album’s intro, “Follow the Leader,” is textbook nostalgia, incorporating some soul into the mix that reminds listeners of Van Morrison at his prime. “America” is another standout, bringing some exuberant piano to the forefront of the track. Of all the songs on this record, “America” will certainly be the best performed live because of how energetic it will sound.
Hang may come as a bit of a surprise to fans of Foxygen who were used to their typical pop-rock sound, but it’s nothing that betrays their general sound and aesthetic. This slight tweak is growth in the right direction, possibly enough to find popularity and critical acclaim. New fans will find oodles of nostalgia, and if you’re already a fan of ’70s pop rock, this is the album for you. Sure, Foxygen isn’t reinventing music, but they sure do know how to craft a well-paced album and an entertaining listen.