Foxygen - We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

by Andy Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2013-01-21

It's three-quarters of the way through January and that optimistic, this-year's-going-to-be-different mindset is starting to look a little unstable. They're eating horsemeat on Newsnight; David Cameron's wittering on about Ronseal; the weather's fucked, and now HMVs gone and fallen into administration. With all this misery and confusion we could all do with something positive, some good news to cling onto while we wait for cancelled trains and go sliding on the ice.

Thankfully, Foxygen's second album, We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, is far too concerned with being clever and uplifting to let all that stuff get in the way of a good time. While 2011 debut Take the Kids Off Broadway had a rough-and-ready, lo-fi charm Foxygen's sophomore release see's the impossibly young songwriting duo of Sam France and Jonathan Rado refine their record-making abilities into an altogether smoother listen. At times their songs become a bit of a 'spot the influence' contest, yet these songs are carried off with enough flair, wit and enthusiasm that the album never descends into banal retroism. In an admirably relaxed fashion, France and Rado manage to find the meeting point between Lou Reed, The Kinks and MGMT.

The show begins with the wonderful 'In the Darkness', which owes more than a few chord sequences to The Beatles (more specifically, George Harrison) as they sing: "Without further ado, we'd like to introduce you to the darkness…" It's the ideal curtain-raiser and sets expectation high for the rest of the album. Luckily, 'No Destruction' is a pretty special song. Here, the band manage to capture a little of Lou Reed in his post-Velvets prime and reveal some rather accomplished (and witty) lyrical word-play too. France also embodies a young, idealistic Dylan as he casually sings: "I'm sending you this photograph of me in my new car but I hate to say I miss you, 'cos you don't need me anymore."

'On Blue Mountain' sounds like some great lost single from MGMT's psych-pop debut album, with added rock 'n' roll swagger and a Jagger-worthy vocal performance from France. Its sub-gospel outro with the repeated chant, "On the mountain, God will save you, put the pieces back together" brings the house down too. 'San Francisco' has an easy and eloquent Ray-Davies-meets-The-Magnetic-Fields vibe, while 'Bowling Trophies' is a brief, technicolour instrumental strut. So far, so immaculate.

Recent single 'Shuggie' combines Beck-esque cool with a sweetly sad lyric, as France croons: "But you don't love me/ That's news to me". It's a gorgeous piece of music and seems to get better with each listen. 'Oh Yeah' seems purpose built to show off Frances' vocal abilities as he croons, clucks and struts through a slice of smooth pop-funk (with admittedly throwaway lyrics). The album's title track comes the closest to the barely controlled chaos of their first album with its racing guitars and nods to a whole host of CBGB bands and Jonathan Richman's eternally influential Modern Lovers. 'Oh No 2' brings the show to an end much in the way it started with a perfectly Beatles-eque slice of melancholia; this time borrowing from the descending, hypnotic chords of 'I Want You (She's so Heavy)'. Not an easy trick to carry off with this level of originality either.

I could probably spend most of my life sat in darkened rooms, drinking tea and listening to Scott Walker, but sometimes we all need something genuinely uplifting to listen to. We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is as bold, confident and brilliant as its self-assured title would suggest. The album is bursting with ideas, inspiration and positivity, yet never sinks into the kind of sickly-sweet areas that send me running for my Coil albums. So while the album points to an exciting future for this songwriting duo, the present is starting to look a whole lot brighter for the rest of us.

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