Foxygen release their brand new album …And Star Power this coming October. Described as “a svelte 82-minute run time of psych-ward folk, cartoon fantasia, soft-rock indulgences, D&D doomrock and paranoid bathroom rompers”, the 24-song album is a rollercoaster whirlwind of 70s funk, 80s punk, country rock and everything else inbetween. As Sam France and Jonathan Rado of the band have said themselves, …And Star Power is “A cinematic auditory adventure for speedy freaks, skull krunchers, abductees and misfits.” If you’ve wondered who Star Power are, they’re “a punk band, and you can be in it too. Star Power is the radio station that you can hear only if you believe”. Featuring a whole host of guest stars (including members of Gardens & Villa and Dub Thomson), Foxygen’s 3rd studio album is not one for the faint hearted, as it takes you on a mental journey through the minds of Star Power. Read on to see what All Things Loud thought of …And Star Power.
CHAPTER I – THE HITS AND STAR POWER SUITE
STAR POWER AIRLINES
One of many instrumental tracks, Star Power Airlines powers up the record with buzzsaw synths, cataclysmic instrumental combinations and various vocal samples scattered throughout the track, as Foxygen literally prepare to take you on the 24-song, 4 chapter adventure that is Star Power.
HOW CAN YOU REALLY
The already familiar and happy piano chords of recent single How Can You Really, which is …And Star Power’s most radio friendly song, make way for a song which is heavily indebted to the 1970s with its catchy chorus, twangy guitar solo and brassy, funk-laden rhythms.
COULDA BEEN MY LOVE
Slightly demure, effects-laden piano accompany Sam France’s laidback vocals, as a slight guitar line adds some effect in the background. The verses see France singing in call-and-response fashion with Star Power’s female backing singers, as the emotion slightly builds up towards the end. A brief radio snippet proceeds to bring the song, which Sam France told us was one of his favourites on the album, to a close.
Opening with crazy brass, guitars and bass, Cosmic Vibrations is the first chaotic, weird moment on Star Power. About 25 seconds in, the track goes from chaos-inducing punk to smooth folk rock, as France’s downbeat vocals are accompanied by synthesized organ melodies, before he switches to falsetto in the chorus. Towards the end, the song turns into an uplifting, optimistic anthem straight out of a Californian bar in the 1970s, a time period which is very well represented on …and Star Power.
YOU & I
The slightly shorter, ballad-esque You & I kicks off with slow guitar and vocals, yet it doesn’t go very far, mainly sticking to a very downbeat combination of guitar and vocals. Despite the album having a large amount of high points, You & I is one of very few lesser songs on the album.
STAR POWER I: OVERTURE
The first of a 4-part suite sees the album really start to get exciting. Opening with jazzy piano chords, it slowly builds up pace with fuzzy synths and brief crescendo’s, before lounge-y melodies enter the frame, accompanied by a smooth bassline.
STAR POWER II: STAR POWER NITE
Star Power Nite opens with the same elements heard in Overture, but sped up significantly and with more intense energy as occasional cries of Star Power (and other vocal samples) are scattered throughout the track. Part 2 of the Star Power suite sees the energy increase as crashing cymbals and piano jabs make way for Part 3.
STAR POWER III: WHAT ARE WE GOOD FOR
What Are We Good For is the only non-instrumental song of the Star Power suite, opening with fast-paced brass and piano, before it gets all messy with half spoken/half sung, ceramic donkey-referencing lyrics in the first verse. It all comes together in the chorus as France and his female backing singers sing “What are we good for, if we can’t make it?” in harmonious unison. The funky brass and guitar combination that follows is accompanied by more vocal samples, as the song ends with a chaotic instrumental combination and a full-on funk rock outro.
STAR POWER IIII: OOH OOH
Ooh Ooh closes the 4-part suite with sweet harmonies from Star Power’s female backing singers, before the song quickly becomes a smooth jazz ballad. It doesn’t pick up pace or build up, instead slowly breaking itself down until the track completely fades out. Ooh Ooh also signals the end of …And Star Power’s first chapter, The Hits and Star Power Suite.
CHAPTER II – THE PARANOID SIDE
I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING/THE GATE
Country rock guitars and serene vocals accompany lyrics about a one Mr Robinson which, according to Sam France, is about a 4th grade teacher who was found in possession of child pornography. I Don’t Have Anything/The Gate only just manages to keep you interested, yet does drag on a little bit too long with its wailed, story-like lyrics.
Mattress Warehouse’s opening bass and drum combination makes way for waspy synth lines and occasional bleeping sounds, before happy-go-lucky jazz organs and a synth make for the main melodic aspect of the song. The vocals are generally indecipherable, with its hazy effects making it hard to make out what France sings. Not that it’s a problem though, as the lo-fi elements are what makes …And Star Power sound so authentic and 70s, as opposed to an extremely polished funk rock knock off. It all gets a bit crazier towards the end, as a trumpet briefly enters the frame before the drums fade out.
Opening with country folk banjo elements and France’s counting from 1-8, 666 (complete with a nod to the devil in its title and in its lyrics) is another of the wackier songs on the album. You can just picture 666 being one of the highlights in a live setting as it keeps up a steady pace, with the main lyrics being France’s simple descriptions of the numbers 1-8 (“6 is the devil, 7 is heaven & 8’s alright!”). The song ends on a quick guitar moment as France, fellow Foxygen member Jonathan Rado and their backing singers shout “hey!”.
An electronic drum beat and fuzzy synths make way for hazy vocals, as fairground melodies enter the foreground. There are slight hints of Vampire Weekend in the vocals, with Flowers being another more laid back track on …And Star Power. Like a lot of songs on the album, the lyrics touch on love and relationships, as France emotionally wails “don’t write me off, don’t write me off, I know somebody very much like me” and “everybody laughs and is free, but I love someone else”.
Another of the various instrumental tracks on the album, Wally’s Farm opens with a haunting, propaganda-esque vocal line of “Wally’s Farm thinks you’re beautiful” before turning into an absurd, trumpet and synth-led track. It’s hard to describe Wally’s Farm without using the words ‘absurd’ and ‘weird’.
Cannibal Holocaust is a bit more of a familiar one, having been played live a few times. It starts off with hands-in-the-air lovelorn lyrics, as France sings “we can work together, you & I” before yet again bordering on the absurd as he sings about children who have lost their minds, freedom and alcohol. It picks up pace near the end as an ascending piano line transforms into an extremely loungey, 70s breakdown as France proclaims, “stop telling me lies”.
A grand proclamation of “this song is called Hot Summer” leads into happy, upbeat synths and more fairground melodies. The lyrics are very minimal, with France also shouting his way through the song in places. On one hand, the happy synthesizer effects make the song sound uplifting and positive, yet the vocals border on demented and absurd.
CHAPTER III: SCREAM: JOURNEY THROUGH HELL
Crackly radio broadcasts precede buzzsaw synths on the 6-minute long Cold Winter/Freedom, which opens up …And Star Power’s second disc, as well as its 3rd chapter, Scream: Journey Through Hell. Slowly but surely, more instruments and weird sounds enter the frame before the song becomes a cacophony of weird sounds. It sounds like it will never end, yet it eventually does after all the noises come together and form a crazy radio frequency soundscape. This leads into sharp drumming, as piano and guitar join in to say goodbye to all the preceding, almost unlistenable noise which was literally a journey through hell. Soon enough, though, this instrumental combination becomes rather frenetic and chaotic as all the instruments slowly come together. Cold Winter/Freedom could’ve definitely lost the opening minutes of noise, which felt quite out of place and rather pointless. It closes on a weird vocal transmission in which Sam France talks about Led Zeppelin and dead dogs.
CAN’T CONTEXTUALIZE MY MIND
Can’t Contextualize My Mind proceeds to bring the album back down to earth with calm and serene balladry in its strummed chords and ¾ time signature. Eventually, the calmness disappears as an upbeat sections takes centre stage for a brief 30 seconds. It slows down yet again, before another fast section sees France cooing and screaming over weird synths and a jangly guitar line. It then becomes too chaotic for its own good as it swiftly self-destructs in and amongst the masses of instruments and radio samples.
BROOKLYN POLICE STATION
Another fast and happy song, Brooklyn Police Station has a rockabilly dance rhythm to it, before the verses slow down slightly. It’s more melodic and harmonious than the two preceding songs, with France’s messy, half sung half spoken vocals accompanied by female backing vocals. Just over the halfway mark, everything changes as it becomes a ballad, led by swirling melodies and soulful vocals. The rockabilly returns slightly towards the end with France “ooh ooh”-ing over pipe organ-style synths.
The Game is another slower guitar ballad which, like a few previous songs, doesn’t really go far as it sways back and forth at the same pace for just over 2 minutes.
Sounding like the theme tune to a 70s sitcom, Freedom II moves along quite nicely with the only thing close to vocals being occasional vocal samples and shouts of the track’s title. It changes pace and mood just over the halfway mark, when a funky bassline and a slightly messy structure make way for a rather sudden build up, which is then traded for a different sounding outro where the piano and guitar combine nicely. Towards the end, a whole new song enters the frame for a short while, before slowly fading out.
Talk opens with sounds of chewing and a 4-3-2-1 countdown, before slow acoustic guitar chords make way for an extremely uptempo guitar/bass combination. It’s instrumental for the most part, save for occasional shouts of “talk” and some screams and murmurs throughout. Near the end, France shouts out “Star Power radio!” as the song changes style ever so briefly whilst fading out, similar to what happened in Freedom II.
CHAPTER III: HANG ON TO LOVE
EVERYONE NEEDS LOVE
A near 7-minute love song, with some of the most uplifting and least absurd lyrics on the album. The main theme in Everyone Needs Love is France telling the subject of the song that they’ve “got to hang on, hang on” and “shine on, shine on”. By the end of the song, France is singing “we can make it together, we can change the world”, with marching band drums and guitar solos intertwining throughout the duration of the song. Lyrically, it’s the most positive song on the album, coming in right near the end of an album where the lyrical subjects have been binary opposites of eachother – love, hate, positivity, negativity, optimism and pessimism.
Despite all the chaotic paranoia heard throughout the whole album, …And Star Power’s closing song Hang is all wobbly guitars and hazy vocals, as France ponders being good enough for his lover. He asks them, “If I’m no good, would you let me know, if I’m no good, would you let me hang?”. Towards the end, backing vocals accompany France as a pipe organ helps bring this mega, 24-song journey to a close on a demure note. Right after the song ends, a voice says “thank you very much” before going off on a mini speech about how music can make you dance.
Overall, …And Star Power is a record which has firmly solidified Foxygen’s status as one of the most interesting American bands of today. Yes, it could be shorter in places, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a well thought out record with a lot of tiny little details, and every song ends up having its own identity on the album. It could make do with a few omissions and certainly is not a hit record, but there has definitely been a lot of thought into the concept it set out to deliver. Each chapter has its own standout track (How Can You Really, 666, Freedom II and Everybody Needs Love, respectively), which is accompanied by a whole host of other exciting tracks. …And Star Power is best listened to in a full sitting, because only then do you ‘understand’ the album and its concept. Some songs are perfectly fine by themselves, but this record is meant to be listened to as a whole. This record may not become a commercial mega hit, but it will likely become memorable in its own right.