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There’s a fine line between innocence and ignorance. After all, there’s not much that separates the coward choosing to ignore horror and the optimist trying to see through it, and far too often the noble desire to remain positive comes across like a particularly saccharine, uninformed sort of self-destruction.
Case in point: Foxygen’s new record, Hang. An unironic slice of string-based oversaturation released for the consumption of an America divided and a world afraid, the album remains almost hysterically upbeat. Whether such joy is annoying or admirable will depend entirely on the predilections of the listener – though either way, those who imagined that the record’s January 20 release date (inauguration date in the US) might belie a fiery anti-establishment vein will be disappointed indeed. Hang is rebellious only in its ridiculousness.
Ultimately, your tolerance for the proceedings will largely depend on how accepting you are of Foxygen in general. The band have their fair share of detractors – critics who argue the group are nothing more than overly nostalgic, derivative dribblers – and it is they who will be particularly irked by Hang and its ‘full orchestra pushed down the stairs’ approach to songwriting. A tune like ‘America’ does absolutely nothing by halves, and even the record’s quieter moments are soaked in melodrama.
Hang’s touchstones are clear. The shadow of Randy Newman lies heavy over the entire proceedings, though the ecstatic, pompous ‘Upon A Hill’ owes a particularly important debt to the mumble-mouthed troubadour. There’s an ample splash of Van Dyke Parks throughout too, not to mention a range of non-musical influences, from nods to Jackson Pollock’s technicolour splatter approach, to Walt Whitman’s braggadocio singing of the self, to Francis Ford Coppola’s over-exuberant, spaghetti-fattened take on American masculinity.
The key between all the influences, of course, is America, and the US remains the cornerstone of the entire record. Hang is about the States the way Nick Cave and The Bad Seed’s Murder Ballads is about, you know, murder, and a heavy dose of patriotism inflects and infects every single note. Even something as innocuous as ‘Follow The Leader’ drips with a bombastic imperialism, cartwheeling about the place with a blatant and uniquely American disregard for subtlety.
Again, such openly exhibited exuberance towards a country mired in a worrying uptick of fascists and neo-Nazis will annoy many. But that’s kind of the point. By overstuffing their record with things they adore – jam-packing it full of sonic love letters addressed to both their musical idols and their country itself – Foxygen have created their ultimate record, the culmination of everything they’ve been attempting for years now.
In that way, even those who hate the thing with every inch of their being – and there will be lots of those people; more than Foxygen have perhaps ever encountered before – will not be able to deny it. Hang is a big, gauche, overzealous statement: unsurpassable by virtue of its uniquely ’Murican brand of madness.
‘Hang’ out today on Jagjaguwar
Watch: Foxygen – America