The sooner you fumble your way through the unruly title of Foxygen’s latest LP, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, the sooner you can get to the music, which is quite the opposite—immediately familiar and relatively easy to navigate.
That’s not to say Foxygen’s generous winks and nods to The Beatles and The Zombies and Bob Dylan and Lou Reed and David Bowie (
and I can go on) don’t make for an engaging spin on the past. Members Jonathan Rado and Sam France do so with the necessary confidence and personality, and the right amount of TLC. They’re not far off from artists like Thee Oh Sees and Ariel Pink, who wear their influences like a red cape flapping in the wind without simply aping them.
Besides, at the end of the day the songs are either good or they’re not. What’s most impressive about 21st Century is that there’s nary a dud in the bunch, a difficult feat when it comes to making modern pop music that lives mostly in the past. Just ask Dr. Dog. It’s a more taut batch than the group’s previous Take the Kids Off Broadway EP. Here, multi-instrumentalists Rado and France effectively trim the fat and gristle into a lean 35 minutes of succulent pop. (If you’re disgusted by that last sentence, please replace it with your preferred non-meat analogy.)
The best songs on 21st Century are the ones that dig into the grimier and sassier side of early-’70s glam. Big choruses almost pop out of nowhere on “Shuggie” and “Oh Yeah,” which border on the pomp-and-camp world of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The title-track is the most fun, a loose garage-rock jam with a few surprises of its own (the low hum of organ is the only adhesive to the glittery sty). The chorus to “On Blue Mountain” not-so-suspiciously recalls Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds,” but there are plenty of left-field dynamics and candied vocals to divert your attention (like the sneaky, one-time-only “I need it! I need it!” line).
While the more unhinged moments tend to overshadow sugary, buttery pop songs like “No Destruction” (even with the delicious jab: “There’s no need to be an asshole / You’re not in Brooklyn anymore”), the softer moments balance out the record’s tidy nine tracks. 21st Century also balances our post-apocalyptic present day with the past Rado and France hold so dear. The true litmus test is whether a modern take on the classics can hold your attention, or makes you immediately reach for your Transformer record. Foxygen wins. This time.