Sometimes you hear things at just the right moment. It’s been cloudy and raining for the past few days in Nashville. It was especially bad yesterday, raining all day and night; no matter when I went out, I would get soaked. But when I woke up this morning, the rain had stopped, and the sun had come out, so before class, I went out for a walk and listened to this new Foxygen album. It was pretty euphoric to finally have warm sun beams cast down upon me while filling my ears with this set of luscious baroque pop songs.
I’ve been looking forward to this album for quite a bit, actually. I find it strange that I was as excited for Hang as I was, mainly because I’d never really listened to Foxygen. I had heard the name bandied about a lot amongst some of the more learned indie fans I know, but I never had the impetus to go check them out. When the first single “America” dropped a couple of months ago, I finally decided to give the band a listen and I was supremely intrigued at what I was hearing. This was some really bombastic big band influenced jazz pop, complete with a full orchestra and a winding structure that didn’t really befit a lead single. But I loved it, and I enthusiastically anticipated the release date for Hang.
This album harkens back to a sort of Brian Wilson-esque 1960s pop tradition that sort of got phased out as a heavier guitar-based sound became the standard for rock and roll, and the sounds on Hang are very much reminiscent of the type of records that the Wrecking Crew would play on. Every song is adorned with complex, multi-layered arrangements of horns, strings, organs, orchestral percussion, harpsichords, and just about every other bell and whistle imaginable. To put it bluntly, Hang sounds expensive. A lot of artists try and dip their toes into a retro sound to add a pinch of novelty to their songs, but here Foxygen completely submerge themselves in old-school swing and retro soul.
The production is suitably sixties as well. I get the sense from overall timbre of the record that a lot of vintage gear was used during the recording, especially with the spring reverb guitar tone that could be straight from an early Motown recording. There’s a bit of a trend in music that’s been on the rise for the past few years to replicate the sound of decades passed, and while that may seem like a regressive line of thinking for some, my ears react quite enthusiastically to the warmer sound that albums like this and the recent Childish Gambino release strive for.
Despite looking to the past sonically, structurally this album goes off on a multitude of quirky tangents that those older bands may not have thought to do. The most potent example of this is the aforementioned “America”, a song that, over the course of five and a half minutes, turns the prog dial way up and goes on a literal jazz odyssey, to quote Spinal Tap. Another odd yet effective songwriting curveball is in the blending of Beach Boys styled surf pop and obnoxiously sugary Tin Pan Alley swing music in “Avalon”. There are lots of unexpected twists and turns peppered throughout, with frequent tempo changes and genre roulette drastically altering the overall feel of certain tracks midway through, sometimes to disorienting effect.
It’s this sense of tension that keeps Hang from feeling too indulgent for its own good. I think these guys realize how easily this all could have gone wrong. There certainly are many pitfalls that Foxygen could have walked into by making music as admittedly cartoonish as this, but they keep it interesting with non-conventional songwriting and a just enough of a hint of darkness preventing the flowery musical backing from getting too sweet. Definitely give this one a listen.