Foxygen - Seeing Other People - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Foxygen - Seeing Other People

by Mark Moody Rating:6 Release Date:2019-04-26
Foxygen - Seeing Other People
Foxygen - Seeing Other People

It’s hard being Foxygen and it’s hard being a Foxygen fan, especially for your daughter’s boyfriend.  Never knowing from one minute to the next whether they are done for good or coming back for more is stressful.  Never knowing whether you will ever get to see them perform again seems to be up in limbo as well.  It’s also been hard to play the role of Foxygen apologist, but Lord knows I’ve tried.  I loved their last album Hang, not just for the unmedicated manic thirty minutes or so that it was, but also for the surefire certainty that playing it created a visceral reaction in anyone that heard it.  Trying to explain to people why I liked Hang was a tough row to hoe, and not everyone took a liking to it.  Similar to Robin Williams’ brilliantly unhinged talk show appearances, either you ride along with the riffs or you hope he doesn’t show up at your house.       

So as lead singer Sam France puts it, he and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rado have a set of tracks together and they are going to put them out.  I for one was happy to hear that latest album, Seeing Other People, was on its way.  In an open letter to fans and his record label, France apologizes for nothing but does implore the label not to worry.  Not to worry because Seeing Other People is an album of singles.  And for better or worse, that’s probably the best way to look at it.  It doesn’t thematically hang together as their best work has, but it does have its rewards and it robs you of some too.

Probably as Hang’s detractors viewed it, Seeing Other People has highs, lows and its mundane moments.  Here though those peaks and valleys don’t appear in the same songs, but rather each stands or falls on its own.  Things start gamely enough with Rado bringing back the early-MTV era as his machines whir to life on ‘Work’.  The song’s crunch and chunky rhythms go down easy with France taunting “if you have something to say, say it”.  France also off-handedly offers up what could be the band’s songwriting and financing M.O. - “call up Rado and we’re crankin’ them out”.  Here the self-effacement works on the album’s grooviest track.

If it were any other band, maybe it would come off as ironic that Seeing Other People’s best moments come in its most understated ones.  When I first heard lead-off single ‘Livin’ A Lie’, I have to admit it sounded something of a let down with expectations running high.  But this album needs some bona fide moments and this straightforward call-out also plays out as a disenchanted torch song.  And for that, it has grown on me.  That France chastises his target for “rippin’ off my act and my show” seems odd coming from a master mimic, but it's a beautiful vibey moment. 

The album’s best tracks though come in the skittering soul of the title track and the slinky vibe of ‘Flag At Half-Mast’.  ‘Seeing Other People’ has France playing it straight-faced in the hard pull of the chorus and hearing him genuinely belt it out without artifice is a refreshing change of pace.  ‘Flag At Half-Mast’ comes as a mix of Jagger at his most laid back (‘Waitin’ On A Friend’, anyone), but also the emotional grunts and groans of Van Morrison on any of a myriad of minor classics.  And the self-referential line “she’s never heard of Foxygen” is a great one.  Rado supplies spurts and fizzles here at the right moments and even an extended instrumental walk-out that works. 

Unfortunately, there are just too many moments on the album that are skip button worthy, and if you choose not to do that it could leave a mark.  ‘Face The Facts’ is so cringe-worthy both in its mock Rick Astley mega-hit churn up as well as lyrics like “want to live in times when they put cocaine in Coca-Cola” and “I’m never gonna dance like James Brown, I’m never gonna be black”. Parody is supposed to be funny and even though built for a dance routine and colored with descending strings and funk riffs, this just isn’t. 

During time between the band’s releases, Rado did a worthwhile cover album of Springsteen’s Born To Run, but here ‘The Thing Is’ comes as a straight-up ripoff of ‘Hungry Heart’.  If The Boss wasn’t so busy counting his shekels made over on West 48th Street he might be coming after these boys.  The best that can be said about ‘Mona’ is it would fit right in as one of Beck’s faux disco tracks, but ‘News’ is another stumble that sounds like an extended Hill Street Blues TV theme song.  Certainly, that's something we didn't need.      

I’m not here to bury Foxygen, but I’m not here to defend them either.  It’s just too hard to figure out when they are playing it straight up or mocking themselves, others, or their fans.  No one likes feeling had.  On Seeing Other People you get what you get from Foxygen and they apparently don’t care if you pitch a fit.  The album is a bit of a mess and not a glorious one either.  Maybe some will see it as respite from Hang and as noted above, and by France, there are several great single-worthy songs here.  Until they crank out some more, the sentiment of the album's title is maybe not such a bad idea.

 

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