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We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic Luke Turner , January 23rd, 2013 05:50

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When Smash Hits interviewed Mick Jagger in February 1985, the hugely successful pop mag headlined the article thus: "Mick Jagger: If You Don't Know Who This Bloke Is, Ask Your Parents…" The subhead continues, "But isn't he over the hill? And does he know anything about modern music? And what's he like anyway?"

It seems inconceivable now that any teenager would be anything but fully informed as to exactly who Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones are. In recent years, the narrative that the 60s were the Triumph And Pinnacle Of Western Musical Invention has been rammed down our throats by the baby boomers who stole our jobs and our houses. Still the great arse of that decade, bloated by endlessly repeated yarn and myth, suffocates us all.

Riding in under the radar down the curve of its buttock are 100% retro duo Foxygen, who originate from LA, are inspired by The Rolling Stones to the point of being copyists and have appalling taste in trousers. This, their second album, is bizarrely garnering positive notices on both sides of the Atlantic despite sounding like a demo tape for a band who'd have been considered too risible to make it past the auditions for Austin Powers' Ming Tea. So where does one start with this shower? There's the weak non-sequitur of the name, for starters. Have Foxygen ever smelt a fox, let alone tried to breathe one in? Reynard stinks, hence his use in entertaining aristocrats in red coats and their canine friends over the years. Then there's the album title, We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic, which is a big fat lie given that the closest this has come to anything post-1970 is the fact that I am listening to it on the modern technological wonder that is Spotify.

There's certainly scant magic here. 'No Destruction' remarkably manages to be some kind of East Coast vs West Coast hipster in-joke - "there's no need to be an asshole/you're not in Brooklyn any more" - via a badly phoned-in Dylan impersonation. It also sees the first of many Ladybird Book Of The 60s lyrical clunkers: "The doors of consciousness aren't open any more," they mewl, kindly proving their own point.

'On Blue Mountain' suggests the kind of infantile escapism that currently characterises so much American indie music, dreaming of "living in a sunset.... like children on a swingset". The Jagger pastiche here sounds more like an upset teenager asking for forgiveness after a whitey puke on his girlfriend's parents' rug than the Stones singer's preposterous and libidinous howl, while the backing vocals screech like South Park characters in full taunt. 'San Francisco' wheels out cliche after cliche. I mean, have they ever been to the bit of that contradictory and beautiful city "where the forest meets the bridge"? I have: there's a military cemetery stuffed with the fallen of America's wars, the stinking fumes of Interstate 101, WWII bunkers where junkies go to shoot up, and a handy view of suicides windmilling down from the Golden Gate. Surely plenty of grist to the creative mill, yet sadly all Foxygen can muster is a fiddly-ree refrain and the lyric "I left my love in San Francisco / That's OK, I was bored anyway". How many times in pop have people left things in San Francisco? This is just getting careless.

Carelessness (and laziness, and indulgence, and smugness) are recurring motifs here. 'Oh Yeah' (says a lot) rattles hazily through lyrical drivel worth repeating largely in full: "it's a bummer in the summertime / everyone's going to have a real good time / arms and legs / bacon and eggs / you can rearrange your mind / if it makes you feel fine / you can chew on gum / if it makes you have fun..." Jivens.

When the chorus to 'Shuggie' (yes, 'Shuggie') runs "if you believe in yourself you can free your soul", the hippy platitude might be more convincingly delivered by a hard-nosed derivatives trader, hardly helped by the following flute line that's as wet as a baby's banana fart. There's nearly a redeeming moment on final track 'Oh No', where a hint of Grandaddy's pyschedelia comes in under a strange electronic beeping that might be a sonar ping or hospital heart monitor... this is undone, unsurprisingly, with a hokey piano closer that sounds like a Butlins Redcoat doing his 'John Lennon solo' turn at the staff Christmas party. This isn't saying that Foxygen are inevitably diabolical merely through the sum of their influences. Far from it - we'd point you in the direction of 1967 hit 'Pretty Ballerina' by The Left Banke as an example of just how good naive and innocent, sun-kissed pop of the period could be. Sadly, Foxygen have brought with them into the 21st century the instrumentation and aesthetic, but none of the charm.

For all you dedicated students of the 60s era, this new-build fossil that's neither of relevance to now nor even a decent tribute to the era that inspired it must be doubly aggravating. It is possible, just about, to make an argument for retro-derived music that attempts to valiantly recapture the spirit of a time past, even if precious little is done to update it sonically. But Foxygen seek neither transcendence, nor a utopian way of living in balance with all humanity... not even a bonk in a bush with a girl with breasts bare under paisley cotton. No, all Foxygen want their music to bring them is a free blue rucksack:

Back in the day Foxygen would surely have been laughed out of town as frauds and fakers who've been caught buying hippy wigs in Woolworths, man. When Foxygen fly in to play London, you can bet they take a cab to Carnaby Street.

Tim
Jan 23, 2013 11:03am

The greatest decade in the history of mankind is over. And as Presuming Ed here has so consistently pointed out, we have failed to paint it black.

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Chris
Jan 23, 2013 11:53am

The Rolling Stones - hardly the most creative of templates upon which to aspire to.

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Will
Jan 23, 2013 11:56am

The thing about sixties music is that is wasn't pointless retro shit done by a couple of smug chumps who have somehow lucked out with a massive promo budget.

Whoever put up the cash for these guys should hang their head in shame.

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Dan
Jan 23, 2013 1:38pm

In reply to Chris:

Well now, from about 65 to 72 they were pretty damn creative. I assume that's the time period bands like Foxygen take inspiration from. I mean, I can't imagine a band has ever gotten really inspired after a group listen of Bridges to Babylon.

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Michael McGinn
Jan 23, 2013 4:20pm

Well this is a little harsh isn't it? Justifies the 'critics' paycheque I suppose.

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m-dawg
Jan 23, 2013 4:36pm

In reply to Michael McGinn:

Little known fact about Luke Turner: he turned down a record deal with Interscope to write witty, eloquent music criticism. "Not for me is this rap game," he said, "for it is not lucrative enough to finance my penchant for bitches and Maybachs. I shall become a music journalist" And lo, so it was, that with a "web site" he and his bearded colleague established, whose sole purpose was to serve as an online repository of PR arselicking, Luke Turner did make his millions.

And that is why he does not like Foxygen.

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Worthless Recluse
Jan 23, 2013 4:36pm

In reply to Michael McGinn:

A quick listen to the songs immediately confirms that it's not remotely harsh

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scott
Jan 23, 2013 4:37pm

In reply to m-dawg:

Nah, it's probably because they are shit and really annoying

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Steve
Jan 23, 2013 5:57pm

There aren't many records with less feeling than this one. I wonder why they bothered to make it. They're talented, but utterly soulless. I suspect that, like Grimes, it's nothing more than audio visual fashion that is considered valid art because they know the right people.

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Geoff barrow
Jan 23, 2013 6:21pm

In reply to Steve:

Given this lot or the Parma violets I'd rather just kill myself.

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Joel
Jan 23, 2013 6:28pm

Very interesting review. Glad to have a counterpoint piece right now on this record, because, as you note, it has been garnering many positive reviews.

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Iain
Jan 23, 2013 8:16pm

Think that's harsh? Wait for the Mr Agreeable review.

They are rubbish.

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Cruella
Jan 23, 2013 8:46pm

I think they are just getting started and I look forward to hearing more from them. If you don't like them, fine, just go on and listen to what you do like. No need to trash them-we are better than that, aren't we? Peace!

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Rooksby
Jan 23, 2013 9:49pm

The Brian Jones Massacre did this a lot better, & they're fucking AWFUL.

Discuss.

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Neil
Jan 24, 2013 12:53am

Read a couple of positive write-ups and listened to the album before reading this Quietus piece. Went in with an open mind. But the review is far from harsh. I don't mind the odd Stones track. It don't mind the occasional bit of derivative hypnogogic pop. But this really is mind-crushingly crap.

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Spacious
Jan 24, 2013 1:49am

Karaoke without the drinking. Yep, I just listened to "San Francisco".

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Fielding Melish
Jan 24, 2013 2:05am

Funny to read this review about 24 hours after a fairly laudatory one in Pitchfork (although, as is often the case, I wasn't sure exactly what their writer was getting at). I checked out some samples of the record, even thought the band's name was already a flashing red light to me, and while it is certainly a pleasantly accomplished thing, it really is obnoxious in how trite it all seems. I'm a massive fan of 60's music, and the Stones for that matter, but I see no reason for this kind of placid replication to take place. I remember when people were ripping on the Paisley Underground sound from LA for being so derivative of another era....and that was in 1983.
As Luke points out, there has been a real trend in US 'indie' over the last few years to not only embrace the soporific and infantile, but to hold it up as a talisman. It's nauseating, and while there have been a few signs over the last year or two that the tide is finally starting to ebb, and there is still some life in the form, much of this crap is still part and parcel of the 'scene'. I blame it on the startling influence of Beach Boys records, among many other things, amongst the bearded set, as those tepid mewlings were the blueprint of this sort of milksop mindset.

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Christopher
Jan 24, 2013 2:19am

I'm surprised that no-one has evoked the spectre of late 90's neo-racist psychedelists Kula Shaker yet. I think that's the last time I heard such shameless pastiche of the 'I once had a mushroom, man' stripy trousered nonsense.

Give these dudes some proper acid and play them Tim Hecker, I say.

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Charles
Jan 24, 2013 6:30am

Well, now, Master Luke. Aren't we just teeming with Britwit bile here? And not just for Foxygen. No, no. We note an entire generation prior to these lads' birth are to be blamed for all ills suffered by... well, you, anyway. And that "so much American indie music" is "infantile escapism." And let's not forget that a beloved world city also has an ugly side (unlike, say, any other cities). Our indebtedness, sir, for the enlightenment there. "Handy view of suicides windmilling down from the Golden Gate?" Perhaps on your next visit to San Francisco you can convince Mr. Doran to pop for a finer motel.

We all comprehend-- and okay, some may feel sympathy-- that your charge each morning is to rise and criticize, to state your judgment on this week's pop offerings in a "weekly newsletter." We understand, and good for you.

And what admirably crafted ire this is! "Witty" and "eloquent" as lemming-- er, fan "m-dawg" (uh-huh) opines in his biography here. Especially the parts like where you make fun of the band's name?! That's so... fresh. Could have had the big record deal but turned it down for this, huh? What, higher calling?

Like Foxygen/don't like Foxygen. I've known them for years, and I assure you they care not about such hostility, nor are their stripey britches any tighter following all of the recent, very positive response. It is surprising and gratifying to them that their music is being appreciated by so many. But their sense of humor about all of it remains intact and has always been part of their DNA. They just keep their heads down and make the music they want to make, as always.

Yes, "21st Century" may have been conceived and produced with a wink and nod to another era. But more, it was made with love by a passionate, talented pair of musicians who wanted to create something positive. Spew as you see fit behind all the droll prose you can muster, but this band and this record are providing something that many people are needing and embracing in this era. Happiness.

Hate on that.

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Stavros P. Leibowitz
Jan 24, 2013 11:01am

In reply to Charles:

Actually Charles, I will hate on that. How is saying nothing doing something positive. What really irks about this band is that it has zero understanding of the era that it apes. They ape the misty-eyed bullshit of Scott MacKenzie rather than looking to the dread and razor-sharp incisiveness of say, Love (was ever a band more ironically named?). The 60s weren't a time of peace'n'love - that was an aspiration - it was a time of battlelines being drawn and the best music of the period reflected that. We're living in desperate times and these two clueless Ernies have decided to stick their heads in the sand and say nothing. Musical talent isn't limited to knowing your scales and stringing together a nice chord sequence. It's also about reflecting the world you live be it politically, socially or culturally. These two do none of that. It's self-serving bullshit and it deserves to be trampled in the dust under righteously angry heels. Fuck them and fuck their vapid output. Up against the wall, motherfuckers!

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davidovitch
Jan 24, 2013 12:29pm

I love you, Quietus. I love this review. I love that you do the opposite of Ditchpork and actually engage your critical faculties before reviewing an album.

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Charles
Jan 24, 2013 10:21pm

In reply to Stavros P. Leibowitz:

Yes, thank you, Stavros. And to your comments and perhaps additional apoplectic, contempt-filled, profanity-reliant responses to follow, I say this:
1. I genuinely hope you have music that brings you joy, Stavros, simply for the music, without any of it having to bear the enormous, additional encumbrance of such soul-crushing expectations that it also be a "political, social, or cultural" statement to be appreciated and loved.
2. For God's sake, man, get yourself laid. Properly. Or at very least, a hug.

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Stavros P. Leibowitz
Jan 25, 2013 12:10am

In reply to Charles:

To not engage on any of those levels is to not engage in life on any level at all. Oh, and let's throw 'emotion' into the mix as well. The output of these clowns is therefore of nothing; it's meaningless. It has no point. They're smart-arse copyists avoiding that sales career or job on Wall St.

I have plenty of music that brings me joy, thanks for asking. Fucking tons of it. And most of it wears well unlike this crap. And my sex life is my business other than to say I fuck your weak argument, jiz on your platitudes and wipe my old fella clean on Foxygen's pathetic choice of trousers.

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Charles
Jan 25, 2013 4:39am

Stavros,
You're right. It was foul play for me to have brought up your sex life, not to mention we're all doubtlessly worse off having heard you outline it in such hauntingly vivid detail. My sincerest apologies to everyone for having stirred up that reeking kettle! Next round's on me, though it may take several to expunge that image (not to mention our collective sorrow and pity).
I'm afraid Father Time demands his say in whatever any of us subjectively determines "wears well," Stavros, and in this case it's a bit early for that. As for whether you find joy in music, or can harness that unbridled, QuietuSheep Brand malevolence for a moment about anything, I'll take you at your word, even though your words tally a seething (and eloquent) four "fucks," two "bullshits," and one "motherfucker."
I'm certain more is to come, Stavros, but I rest my case. Take care, my friend. And please, do ask around about that hug.
Charles

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tenbenson
Jan 25, 2013 8:22am

In reply to Charles:

Please stop talking like a dandy highwayman. Your prose style makes my eyes hurt and, if indicative of your "friends", has put me off Foxygen all the more. Job done.

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Luke Turner
Jan 25, 2013 9:07am

In reply to Charles:

Hey Charles, you mealy-mouthed loon, to help you understand that we're not all slate-faced misanthropists here, check out this review I wrote yesterday of another artist... who uses a harp no less, in bloody lovely songs http://thequietus.com/articles/11221-serafina-steer-the-moths-are-real-review. Or how about this piece, about the pure joy that can be found in the sounds of the natural world http://thequietus.com/articles/11222-chris-watson-interview-sound-recording-cabaret-voltaire?

Your pals Foxygen just sound like they were put together by a Wish It Was The 60s focus group. There's more life on one's local fish counter etc.

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Johnny Baggs
Jan 25, 2013 4:49pm

Wow, you really missed the tongue in Foxygen's collective cheek didn't you?

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triani
Jan 26, 2013 1:01pm

I find it hard to disagree with much of the review and enjoyed reading it. Yes- the positive reviews have been over the top for this record, and in many ways it's a big disappointment if you've paid much heed to those earlier critics. But I still enjoyed the Foxygen album in the same way that I would a Tame Impala, MGMT or an Ariel Pink album. It's alright. And Richard Swift's production and sounds are ace, if you're into that kind of thing. Lyrically it's the same vague bullshit most bands deal in nowadays.

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tomasz.
Jan 27, 2013 10:58pm

In reply to tenbenson:

yes, this.

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Worthless Recluse
Jan 28, 2013 3:07am

In reply to Johnny Baggs:

So it's ok to be shallow, derivative and trite if you don't really mean it?

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RuPauls
Jan 28, 2013 8:09pm

In reply to Johnny Baggs:

Well said. Brief and spot on.

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Joel
Jan 29, 2013 4:38am

Foxygen is tearing us asunder.

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carlr
Feb 12, 2014 9:46am

In reply to triani:

Lonerism is good though. Perhaps really good. It's extremely harsh on Parker to compare his work to Foxygen. I even think the comparison with Kula Shaker is harsh on Kula Shaker. Foxygen are the bottom-feeders of psychelic pop.

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