Recently, I’ve started to lower my expectations for albums about which I would otherwise be extremely excited. In fact, I’ve begun to apply this to all forms of media. Recent developments in advertisement and social media have created what I often hear referred to as ‘hype culture’; I suppose meaning that upcoming releases in forms of media — particularly in films and gaming — are often overly publicised as to create as much excitement surrounding this piece of media as possible, often leading to the disappointment of avid fans when said piece of media does not live up to such high expectations. Of course, this phenomenon certainly applies more to big budget blockbusters and highly-marketed video games than to indie record label album releases. However, I do still experience a similar sensation when an album that I have been greatly anticipating turns out to underwhelm me, and I certainly kept this in mind in the time leading up to this new Foxygen album. I had very high hopes back in 2014 for the band’s follow-up to the fantastically fun We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, yet …And Star Power turned out to be, in my opinion, a clumsy compilation of woefully underwritten tracks and weak performances. Wanting not to set myself up for disappointment a second time around, I entered this record wearily, even after being pleasantly surprised by this album’s first teaser track, America, and nothing short of blown away by the second single, the lively and charismatic Follow the Leader. Thankfully, my scepticism going into Hang turned out to be undue.
This eight-song effort from Foxygen opens with the aforementioned Follow the Leader, a track with which I was already very familiar before this album’s release. However, in the context of a full long-playing record, this song stands out as even more dynamic than when I heard it on its own. As an opener, it establishes the decadent and colourful instrumental arrangements that feature throughout the playtime of this record. The warm organ that kicks this track off provides a great foundation for the composition, whilst the fluttering violins and poppy horn section provide some fantastic ear candy for the listener. Moreover, this ravishing instrumentation highlights the lovely clean production on this album right from the onset. Being so indulgent with instrumentation often runs the risk of the final mix sounding somewhat cluttered, but the production on Hang complements the orchestration nicely, making it sound multi-layered and vibrant. The production also shines when Sam France’s impassioned and agitated vocals enter the picture, with some sweet mocking female vocals that accompany his voice nicely. Since their breakout, I have heard Foxygen compared to numerous classic acts in popular music; the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, The Kinks, etc. Frankly, one could trace their sound back to many acts of the 60s and 70s, but I can very much so hear a very Van Morrison-esque hue to France’s off-the-cuff vocals on this opener, which is only emphasised by his sha la la’s at the backend of the track that sound like they were pulled straight from Brown Eyed Girl.
Follow the Leader transitions unrelentingly into the equally exciting Avalon. Foxygen’s varied stylistic influences are highlighted once again by the ragtime-sounding piano intro which is married with a swing-inspired horn section. In fact, much of the track has a rather jazzy swing vibe to it, especially given the squeaky clean guitar solo deeper into the cut. This whole track has somewhat of a jam vibe to me that I feel is pulled off rather well. One of my big issues with Foxygen’s previous release is that a lot of the songs felt more like loose jams based on weak compositional ideas. On this track however, the foundation of the song is completely sound and the usual energetic vocals from France and the female chorus vocals providing backup give the track a bit of a live feel to it that comes across very well. Also, this track is the first of a few on Hang to feature a change in tempo. Whilst tempo changes in pop music can often come across as a bit forced, the diversity of rhythmic structure across this record simply fits in well with the colourful and indulgent instrumentation and arrangements that give much of Foxygen’s music its charming character.
Mrs. Adams is yet another solid track on this record that sounds like it could have been a hit from multiple eras of popular music from the past few decades. Foxygen continue to demonstrate their liberal approach to the timbre of this album with a lovely tuneful xylophone worked into the mix. The powerful vocals on the front end of America make it sound like a genuine anthem, and the lyrical content gives off an impression reminiscent of the establishing opening number of a musical. This is nothing new for Foxygen, as their music often gives off a theatrical vibe, which is rather apt given the title of their 2011 album Take the Kids Off Broadway. America features so many sudden changes in dynamics, tempo and time signature that it really feels like a musical number, especially with the swing horn sections that appear in the middle of this track.
Foxygen continue to show off their impressive array of influences and sounds on the song On Lankershim, which features a bright lap steel guitar at the beginning of the track and vocals that are typical of country music. Even the track Upon a Hill is an animated moment in the track-listing, despite its only one and a half minute duration. The final two cuts on the record fail to stand out to me as much as the earlier tracks, but they are nonetheless solid songs. Both feature some more straightforward songwriting and arrangement than what had featured previously on Hang, with Trauma sounding like a nice laid-back ballad and Rise Up coming across as an uplifting and inspiring musical number. They both come across well, but I almost feel that they would have fared better if put further apart in the tracklisting as to break up the relentless energy on the first handful of tracks and provide some light and shade across the record.
Overall, Hang is a much-needed and long-awaited return to form for Foxygen, once again providing the fun songs and undeniable catchy melodies that made some of their albums prior to …And Star Power so enjoyable. I really just wish it were a bit longer. Standing at only 32 minutes in length with just eight tracks, Hang really does fly by. Then again, when your main criticism of an album is that you wish it were longer, it’s probably pretty damn good.
The Vinyl Verdict: 8/10