By Michael Papich
Oh man, Foxygen. When Foxygen put out their first album in 2011 and then re-released it to more acclaim under Jagjaguwar in 2012, these guys were killing it. Nostalgic, throwback rock was undeniably popular. One need only look at the popularity of bands like The Black Keys or The White Stripes to see that, as much as people love their grindcore, their post-rock, their London laptop house music, people also love to just hear someone play some new songs on guitar and drums with a familiar groove. Foxygen stepped into the shoes of some of the 70s’ and 80s’ best big rock outfits on “Take the Kids Off Broadway,” their first album. And it worked perfectly. Each song was a blend of different styles, identifiable from many different bands at once, changing through the course of a song as it poured into the next. So it was no surprise that people who heard “Broadway” would be excited for Foxygen’s newest release.
Well, wanting the same level of righteous energy from Foxygen was, unfortunately, misplaced expectation. “We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic” considerably tunes down the two-man outfit. When going through the album on the first listen, as this realization dawns upon you, there is a hopeful observation you might make. “Broadway” clearly took its influence from heavy, stadium acts like The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, with that same warbly voice and bombastic, melodic waves of cymbals and guitar. Now, they are trying the other, earlier side of rock music. There are obvious Velvet Underground influences, the track “Bowling Trophies” has a sarcastic Frank Zappa vibe, and the second track, “No Destruction,” sounds exactly like early Bob Dylan. Like, exactly. So, the ol’ Foxygen boys are just trying to show off their other musical loves.
This trend does not continue very strongly, and the album quickly begins to turn toward the duller side. None of the songs flow into one another like “Broadway” did, which felt like a near-seamlessly stitched together quilt, and by “San Francisco,” the fourth song, “Ambassadors” feels like a 60s beat album that’s just about some people living in a place that you can’t relate to.
The album does start to pick up after this point, with “Bowling Trophies” and “Shuggie” pairing together quite nicely, although “Shuggie” bucks the trend of the album and sounds more like ska-influenced folk from the 90s. The tracks “Oh Yeah” and the title track both contain the kind of changing, long rock tunes “Broadway” had in droves, so it’s a nice end to a bit of a let-down.
What’s the strangest is how Foxygen has seemed to actually reject sounding new in favor of adopting more of the sounds of old, much-loved bands. “Broadway” contained plenty of experimentation with modern keyboards and indie rock styles, of which “Ambassadors” is quite bereft. By retreating into the nostalgia that makes their music win so many fans, Foxygen may have lost the perfect balance that made their previous work so engaging. If slower, Dylan-like music is your thing, give it a listen, but don’t expect another 35-minute sound feast.