Review | Foxygen - Seeing Other People
The latest from Foxygen proves they get around, but at what cost?
For perhaps the first time in their career, it seems that Foxygen have completely eschewed 60’s and 70’s pop tendencies for a different sound, but in return, the group sounds a little tired. Their latest album, Seeing Other People isn’t strange in the conventional sense (well, veteran session drummer Jim Keltner does play on a kit made of trash at one point, but hey), but it does seem strange for Foxygen. Strange in the sense that at times it sounds like lead singer Sam France is merely going through the motions of being Sam France, lead singer of Foxygen, while at other points he sounds truly invigorated by the moody direction the album. Jonathan Rado works his usual studio magic, and while it works most of the time, there are points where it sounds like his mind may have been on other projects, such as any one of the myriad of fantastic indie records he’s had a hand in in the last three years.
At the outset, Seeing Other People seems like a mature record, like one your favorite 70’s singer songwriter would release in a mid career crisis. The album art and song titles read like a contemplative noir of sorts from some unplaceable era, and in an exciting way to boot! Musically and lyrically however, the album is an odd amalgamation of general clichés supposedly turned sincere and some of their most adventurous and funky musical ideas to date. But does this combination necessarily a good record make?
Album opener “Work” seems like a fun, self-referential track that unfortunately doesn’t hold up with repeated listenings, as the repetitive groove and tossed off lyrics don’t do much to hold one's attention for too long. The use of percussive drills is cool though. Following it are three slow burners which all feature a lyrical trend of juxtaposing the somewhat lazy repetition of the title phrase of the song with some genuinely interesting images and ideas, such as when France sings “I'm never gonna dance like James Brown/I'm never gonna be black/And I'm never gonna get you back” on “Face the Facts.” The front loading of the album with three moody, mid-tempo tracks makes for some slightly tedious listening, but hidden in these songs are nuggets of classic Foxygen ingenuity, such as France’s adventurous vocals on “Mona.” It really takes until lead single “Livin’ A Lie” for the album to truly pick up momentum.On this low-key diss track, France sings to an unidentified figure with such malice, you can’t help but become sucked into the narrative. The musical dynamics on this track also create an exciting and tense atmosphere in a way the band have never really explored before. It looks like the album will finally deliver on its dramatic promises.
The second half of the album continues to gain momentum, with highlights including the Bruce Springsteen meets Love You era Brian Wilson “The Thing Is” and the ambitiously funky “News,” on which Rado really gets to shine. On these songs, the magic of Foxygen shines through, like a ray of light following the darkness of the songs that preceded them. The final two tracks, “Flag At Half-Mast” and “The Conclusion” are both interesting musically (that’s an all snare drum kit on the later), but once again, the lyrics seem a bit too lazy and tossed off. Foxygen have never been a band you go to for great lyrics, but at least in the past they were interesting. For what it's worth, the drum machine/keyboard outro on “Flag At Half-Mast” makes up for what it lacks in lyrical content.
In the end, Seeing Other People has a lot to offer, but it’s going to require effort to find the magic than previous releases by the group. It’s unlikely to gain the band any new fans, but it certainly shouldn’t drive any old ones away. If Foxygen are seeing other people, that’s fine by me, I just hope they make sure to offer something when they come around.
Most Essential Song: The Thing Is
Least Essential Song: The Conclusion