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Foxygen go country with ...And Star Power

With ...And Star Power, Foxygen have attempted some sort of 21st century oddball epic. But at 24 songs and 82 minutes long, the album feels unfocused and forced, the genres oscillating wildly from country-tinged ballads to twee alt-pop to spacey drone to filmic overture, as if Foxygen set out to make a sharp and solid album but ended up with a random collection of songs.

After the lo-fi psych of last year’s We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, the core duo of Sam France and Jonathan Rado clearly felt pushing the rough-edged sound they’d hewn to extremes was the best way forward for the band. After a year of onstage meltdowns, fake break-ups, and a broken leg, as well as that well-received album that kicked it all off, an attempt at a sprawling opus may have seemed like the best idea ever, dude (!) but Foxygen’s brand of funny-bone-tickling non-serious rock doesn’t lend itself to the cinematic treatment. Although, there are moments of clarity that shine through.

Lead single “How Can You Really” is one such moment; its wormy non-melody is frustratingly catchy, from France’s spoken delivery to the piano line that runs up and down through the tune. Then there’s “Star Power I: Overture”, which is actually quite an impressive impression of a filmic opening theme. Then the moments get smaller; “Star Power III: What Are We Good For” has a strong chorus (which is the line “what are we good for, if we can’t make it”), but its verse is all scrambled and mismatched, with spoken words from France backed by barely together music.

There are other moments, but they’re consistently let down by what surrounds them. Directly following the country-tinged “How Can You Really” is the country-bathed “Coulda Been My Love”, a 70s-style ballad that doesn’t really contribute anything to ballads, country, or country ballads. One song later is “You & I”, yet another country ballad, this one wearing some Dylan on its sleeve (France even sings “YesandI” like Dylan’s “Yesandhow” from “Blowin’ In The Wind”).

Then, after the Star Power quadrilogy, comes “I Don’t Have Anything/Gate”, another, yes another country ballad. But this is one actually quite nice; it’s musically interesting, with horns added to the fold of piano, acoustic guitar and drums, and it’s lyrically stronger than the other two, dropping the “why don’t you love me anymore” stuff for some more nontraditional story telling. The lyrics of the album veer between leaning on cliché to jumping on whacked out tales, and it’s generally the latter that sees France whine out the better words.

Musically, Foxygen cover an impressive amount of ground. Aside from the heavy country influence of the first half of the 24 songs, the second half sees synths and organs feature more; lightly on the cute “Mattress Warehouse”, to heavily on the blazing “Hot Summer”. An electric beat and video game synth introduce “Flowers”, which then turns into a Beatles romp.

There’s also the D&D drone rock of “Cold Winter/Freedom”, the second longest song on the record, and the hardest to listen to, or the easiest, depending on your mood. The songs are both eclectic and derivative, and the way they balance the two often slides towards bad imitation.

There are so many times you wish France and Rado had gone the opposite way with a song, but you can see them watching you think that, and relishing it. And that’s what’s so frustrating about …And Star Power. The moments of genius feel robbed by the knowing jaunts into mediocre experiments.

But still, Foxygen’s latest is worth a listen for the good parts. Just don’t expect it to be your player’s best friend.

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