Archives for the month of: January, 2013


Foxygen’s debut EP, Take the Kids Off Broadway, sounded like a record collectors fever dream. It was an anachronistic rush through blues, folk and British invasion music. With the help of Richard Swift, the duo presented their scatterbrain ideas with a showy overblown production that seemed to simulate several records playing at the same time. With nine songs and a playtime of 36 minutes and 39 seconds, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, their debut album, is only a touch longer than the kaleidoscopic EP, but the move to the LP tag seems to be more about maturity than length. Jonathan Rado and Sam France have settled their frantic minds, and have concentrated and become more judicious with their use of influences. It makes for a more singular record, and they save different styles for different songs, rather than throwing them around wildly.

The returning Richard Swift provides a more cohesive and lucid production, but it’s still thrillingly overwrought in places. Such as “In the Darkness” with its Sgt. Pepper’s horns and piped in crowd noise making it feel more like a transition than an opener. But it works, and shows Foxygen haven’t lost their disjointed charm. “No Destruction” plods along with poetic no-nonsense lyrics: “There’s no need to be an asshole you’re not in Brooklyn anymore.” France sings them with a Bob Dylan-like inflection in his voice, a comparison that becomes undeniable when a harmonica sounds in. France’s voices cracks as he throws himself into the “someone who smokes pot in the subway / pot in the subway with me” line as the organ swells and shifts.

The similarly geography obsessed “San Francisco” has a sweet and warm vocal hook, and a delicate lead is sung over music box keys. The gorgeous refrain of “I left my love in San Francisco / That’s OK, I was bored anyway” becomes a subtle duet as the second line is sung beautifully by a female vocalist. They experiment with similar call and response vocals during “On Blue Mountain”. Which starts as soul song with a snappy drumbeat, but a liquid vocal hook starts a frenzied rock and roll descent as a choir shouts France’s lyrics back at him.

Lead single “Shuggie” is packed with a synth intro, piano keys, string sections, funk jam asides and crashing gospel choruses. It’s almost as perfect a showcase for their unbelievable production as the rich bass sound of “Oh Yeah”. The powerhouse bass grooves propel the song through an infectious shuffle and high harmonies, and a shout of “Freakout!” is answered by a flurrying guitar solo. The swagger flashing title track sees Foxygen at their most unhinged, a hiccupping vocal lead loses its mind as the song falls apart into a hard rocking fury. It has the same loud handclaps and violent energy as The Stooges’ “Shake Appeal”, and its effect resonate throughout “Oh No 2” as France slowly comes down during psychedelic vocal harmonies. The closer builds to a loud crescendo as it borrows the dramatic piano chords from “A Day in the Life”, but it ends with a brief and sweet piano verse from France that is more akin to “Her Majesty”.

We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic feels more like a real debut for Foxygen, there are more actual songs on it, rather than the thrilling, extravagant messes found on the essential Take the Kids Off Broadway. Its cover art and sound both feel distinctly less homemade, and it gives you a clearer sense of the type of band that Foxygen are, and want to be. You can see an exciting maturity developing in their songwriting, but it doesn’t stop them from tearing rock and roll apart with their youthful energy.



California X

Listen to just one track from California X’s self-titled debut album, and you’ll probably be able to correctly identify several of their main influences. The fact that they are a power trio from Amherst, Massachusetts is almost ridiculous. Their music definitely has shades of Dinosaur Jr., the town’s first fuzzy-guitar-lead rock band, but they seem to have a taste in rock music that isn’t overly snobby or esoteric. They clearly love underground alternative rock but their sound has a wider ambition than many of the bands profiled in Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life. It sounds like a dirty and more aggressive form of radio rock, a gigantic noise that can shake and destroy both garages and midsize festival stages.

Guitarist and vocalist Lemmy Gurtowsky has a name that carries a lot of weight in Rock and Roll, it’s either a bold choice of nickname or he has awesome/questionable parents. He leads his band with brash riffs, making sure every song hits you like a gut punch. The whole album thrashes and stomps, and Gurtowsky’s sludgey riffs form a smog that never lets you get your breath back. The distant, drowning guitar opening of “Sucker” kickstarts with bass drum sonic booms, and is scarred with buzzing guitar hooks. The thick riffs on “Pond Rot” rattle along with the snare, and splinter with melody during the verses. The defeatist refrain “I want a pond to rot in” is secondary to Gurtowsky’s fretwork. His vocals are distant echoes; they never transform him into a frontman as they remain part of the band, just another brick in their wall of sound.

The rapidfire crunching riff of “Curse of the Nightmare”, rumbles along with subliminal bass. It’s the album’s shortest song, and the band annihilate their instruments as they tear through it. “Spider X” explodes with excellent drum fills, and ends with a wounded outro solo that fades into light piano keys for a brief, possibly mocking, moment of tranquility. The poppy “Lemmy’s World” has melodic echoes of the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong”, but it still shows their wealth of influences with a mammoth guitar bite on the chorus and a roaring solo from Gurtowsky. Crushing riffs and wailing leads fight for volume on the scrappy closer “Mummy”, and the thudding “Spirit World” breaks into a rousing gallop, before declaring victory with shredding guitar harmonies.

California X probably sound like their influences did when they were starting out, when they were having fun and writing simple songs, or when volume and distortion was a veil for J Mascis instead of his art form. All of their songs are based around a stonerish crunch, and there are few giant hooks, but their music is pure and full of life. Kids are always going to need music that they can slam beers to. They’re not looking to revolutionise music, they just want to plug in and play. They show a ton of potential of this tight eight song album, but they’d probably be happy to just be a rock and roll footnote.


Yo La Tengo Fade

Even as they close in on three genre-spanning-decades, Yo La Tengo’s soft but propulsive music is still effective, but, Fade, their thirteenth studio album, sees them attempting to keep themselves interesting. The band generally favour long albums, both in minutes and title length. Their two most acclaimed albums; 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One and 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, are both around the 70 minute mark. They are amazing but demanding albums that you have to live with for a while. At 46 minutes and a one word title, Fade, is their most streamlined release for years. Unlike their previous mammoth, sprawling LPs, it’s the sort of album that you could just throw on; an unintimidating abridged snapshot of Yo La Tengo’s work. It may go on to serve as the best introduction to their work.

Fade glimmers into view with “Ohm”, the gorgeous opener that unravels and ascends like a sunrise. Moving glacially as it reveals a deep, unassuming beauty within Georgia Hubley’s simple driving drumbeat and Ira Kaplan’s soft vocals and searing guitar lead. They maintain the fuzzy chords and blissful lyrics for almost seven flawless minutes, it makes everything glisten. It leaves you with a sense of melancholy during its long fadeout, wishing you could go with it as it dies out. It’s as perfect as an opener can get. The album almost climaxes with its dazzling and crashing waves, the rest of the songs are like “Ohm”’s ripples, as Yo La Tengo lets us watch the waters settle for another 39 minutes.

The song’s energy is only matched by “Paddle Forward”, a fuzzy rock song with a wonky and noisy guitar sound, Kaplan and Hubley sing the sequestered vocal hooks and melodies together. The remaining songs are generally slower and lower key. The mumbled bleat and light guitar chords of “Is That Enough” are accompanied by a beautiful string section. Hubley adds a sweet harmony to her husband Kaplan’s chorus, making it seem like a romantic moment between the couple. They try another style with the hushed motorik beats of “Stupid Things”, in which Kaplan flashes a measured guitar solo and sings some of his most overtly romantic lyrics. “Well You Better” is a tranquil pop song, built around a shuffling drum beat and James McNew’s airy bass groove. Kaplan sings the “baby make up your mind” hook in a subdued but fun way that translates the song’s simplistic joy.

Side two presents a sleepier and more patience set of songs as the ripples begin to die out. The rich acoustic strums of “I’ll Be Around” are laid over a droning groundbed, and “Cornelia and Jane” is a swelling Hubley fronted vocal piece, with light horns and fluid instrumentation. This section can be a slog if you’re not in the right mood. It’s kind of a gorgeous bore, which strengthens the argument that the trio’s albums don’t need to be 70 minutes long. But they pull it back and show their mastery in bookending albums with the slow burning closer “Before We Run”. Which surges with sparkling string hooks and triumphant horns, and lets you stay with it as it extends past Kaplan’s and Hubley’s fluttering verse duets.

Fade sees Yo La Tengo getting their breath back, and their style works beautifully in a shorter form as they consciously try and succeed in keeping their sound fresh.