Self-described as a “yuppie-pop masterpiece” and “breakup” album, Foxygen has been waiting on releasing, Seeing Other People for quite a while. In line with artists like Ariel Pink and newcomers the Lemon Twigs, Foxygen has been an influential player in an ill-defined segment of indie music.
Entering the new millennium’s twenties, everything from politics and the news to art has become incredibly parodic. The line between what is accepted truth and how we express it is morphing, and more and more media comes off like a spicy meme account. Perhaps to subvert the standards of emotionality, or avoid the awkwardness of honesty, artists toe the line between truth and irony, and often find honesty within this brand of exaggerated revivalism.
Foxygen’s latest release, Seeing Other People contains songs that a Gen X dad would dig. It was genuinely strange to hear so many songs that could compositionally and energetically pass as a warped memory of driving in the car with my dad as a child, listening to the J. Geils Band. Seeing Other People is not an album to take on a surface level. Foxygen are certainly excellent parodists, with France’s vocal style often bending between a pouty Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop. While the lyrical content is tongue-in-cheek, France offers commentary on the success of the band, writes about his own relationship with their success, making jokes at his own expense.
Prior to the boom of popularity, their release of Jurrassic Exxplosion Phillipic (2007) was reminiscent of the chaos created on Of Montreal’s The March of the Gay Parade (1999). Over ten years later, Sam France wanders the rubble of what major music critics consider his career for the music video for “Work.” As the duo continues to define their sound, fans and critics alike have found it easier to gossip about the members of the group than describe their complex but unique voice.
Fans may yearn for the more youthful iteration of the band, before the darkness and angst of Hang (2017), but there’s no doubt that Foxygen is in a transitional period of sound. Tracks like single, “Work,” are incredibly meta – where Foxygen (and France in particular) are typically portraying characters, it seems they’re playing caricatures of themselves. Nothing lyrics disguised as indignance and ego. He refers to his process as “cranking ‘em out,” which is something that most artists are afraid of being called out for, and goes on to say “we even get paid just to do it.”
Foxygen almost betrays the indie community with just these lines alone. France puts these lyrics out there, causing discomfort among the fanbase, and a lack of sureness with how to respond. “Mona” begins with drums reminiscent of “Thriller,” and a funky bassline. France’s moody vocals trade off with a synth lead resulting in a kind of dark sound, especially compared to the energy of songs like “The Thing Is.”
The album is relatively short, with most songs hanging at around 3-3:30 minutes, and rounding out at nine songs. The content from top to bottom is following in their concept of a rock band achieving fame and then eventually falling apart.
Even in interviews, Rado has expressed that Foxygen is more conceptual and studio-based than they may appear from their live shows. France has also said that he considers Foxygen to be more like a “developed performance art project,” than a band (Billboard).
A strength of this album is the changes in energy. Each song seems to embody its own feeling; “Seeing Other People,” is reflective but indignant. “Some people get stuck on the highway,” this slow jam title track is pinned up against “Face the Facts.” While most of the instrumentation on “Face the Facts” is straightforward, the composition of the chorus seems to get progressively more distorted as the song moves forward. Different saw wave synths are added in between verses.
Their production technique of utilizing equipment from the 70s is accentuated of course by a lot of the synth and drum sounds they achieve, but also by the lyrical content. France sings, “I wanna live in the time when they put cocaine in Coca Cola,” and rhymes it with “you gotta face the facts, you’re never gonna be a famous rock and roller.”
Whether France is addressing someone else or himself with lyrics like this is unclear. Many fans who have followed the band’s overdramatized career have asserted a myriad of theories, France diverts theories by saying that it’s about his own experiences.
“Livin’ a Lie” accuses listeners of doing just that and asks, “how does it feel?” The project diverts into unexpected territory with this song, and although it compositionally feels like it’s a part of the album, France goes off the rails melodically. The rhythm and pattern of his melody ventures into trap territory as he calls out haters and style-biters.
The rhythmic lead piano of “The Thing Is,” and succeeding horns sections combined with France’s whooping creates a dense air of irony. Literally singing “I’m a winner,” this exclamation In “News,” France asks, “Is this how our story ends?” and although this release came without much clarity, listeners are forced to wonder whether it is. Of course, Rado is producing more than ever, working in tandem with artists like Tim Heidecker (who also recently released a “breakup” album) and newcomers like the Lemon Twigs.
Without all the layers and excess of We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic (2013), more focus can be allotted to each part. Rather than being in awe of the excessive layering, listeners are forced to hear the scratchy acoustic and hiccuping lead vocals in “Flag at Half Mast.”
This stripped-down sound allows the cringe-y lyrics to take the wheel, stepping back very rarely, like in the last minute of “Flag..,” producing a completely different feeling from the Billy Joel piano and bouncy bassline previous. There is so much familiarity within this album that with more listens, even the most pretentious music fan can get behind the nostalgia of songs like “Flag At Half-Mast,” which musically sounds like it should have just been a part of the Eagles‘ discography.
The end of the album does feel like an intentional wrap-up, in a somewhat redundant manner, Foxygen expresses that they have nothing else to give us. “We ain’t got news,” to “I think we should just be friends,” and even many of the prior songs have been about the aftermath of giving everything to the industry.