Foxygen – “…And Star Power”

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “How Can You Really” “Cosmic Vibrations” “Can’t Contextualize My Mind”

All day I’ve been trying to come up with outdated words to describe this album. Rad? Killer? Kickin’? Foxygen are a classic rock band for the digital age. They always have been. But their new double album, “…And Star Power,” is so classic rock inspired that it explores it as a concept. The album is split into five parts on four sides, all of which represent some faction of a standard classic rock album. And although at 82+ minutes, it’s way, way too long, it provides for an interesting listen as a 24 track album where each song gets crazier than the last.

Side One of this album is split into two parts – the first half of a classic rock album, with the radio hits, and the second half, where only the band’s real fans keep listening. What this means for Foxygen is a start to a lengthy album with a few midtempo, standard-ish songs. It’s a risky move, trusting your fans to keep listening even though the opener is shaky. But it does provide a few great songs – “How Can You Really” is the most Foxygen-y song ever produced, a song that sounds just like any classic rock standard, except for it’s indescribable sloppiness. It and “Cosmic Vibrations” have provided two singles for Foxygen, on an album that’s otherwise devoid. Part Two of the side is one suite – the four-part Star Power Suite. The four songs, including an opening overture, are all speedy garage-rock bruisers that are a lot of fun. Only one of them stretches over three minutes, so they don’t overstay their welcome.

Side Two is subtitled “The Paranoid Side,” and it’s easily the weakest side of the album. The loose concept of this section is songs that are more psychedelic and free than standard rock settings. “I Don’t Have Anything/The Gate” and “666” are interesting songs, but it’s the longest section from a track number standpoint, and it’s got some of the most forgettable songs. “Flowers” and “Cannibal Holocaust” might sound better on a shorter album, but on one that’s already overly bloated, they just take up time.

Side Three, or Scream: Journey Through Hell takes a sudden detour into songs classic rock bands wish they could’ve pulled off, but couldn’t have at the time. The section is kicked off by the nearly seven minute “Cold Winter/Freedom,” which never has a discernible rhythm but some haunting tempo changes. The section is marked by chaos – screaming, hyper rhythms and drastic volume increases. “Can’t Contextualize My Mind” sounds exactly a Stones song left on the floor because it broke an album’s flow. “Brooklyn Police Station” “Freedom II” and “Talk” are all equally intense, hitting chaotic levels even for Foxygen. The few lyrics the songs have are often unintelligible. It’s jarring and off-putting at first, but they’re tracks that demand a few listens, and the listener is drawn back to them almost immediately.

The final side is just two tracks, sweeter outros which don’t exactly fit, given the predecessors, but they’re decent enough as is. “Everyone Needs Love” is a sweet, lengthy song, and “Hang” is a calmed and fitting finale. Their placement doesn’t really work but there isn’t much to comment on them.

“…And Star Power” sounds like their previous album, “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic” on an immediate level – it’s classic rock inspired lunacy, with brilliant flow, quick switches between melodies and chaos, and a permanent garage feel. But it’s a very different album. (Full disclosure: “21st Century” is one of my two or three favorite albums, so take any analysis with a few grains of salt). “21st Century” is only 36 minutes long, nearly a third the length and fifteen songs fewer. And where “21st Century” prouds itself on dense, bizarre and witty lyrics (“On Blue Mountain/God will save you/Put the pieces back together” shows up in at five of the nine songs), this album centers itself on more conventional lyrics, instead aimed at the flow and the grandiose concept. Much of “…And Star Power”‘s rough transitions, competing ideas, and sheer length come from the band’s inner-fighting, well-documented since their break early last year. This album actually serves to clarify that things aren’t as bad as they seemed to us, but the output still goes to show some issues.

Foxygen have always been a high-concept band. Don’t forget, their first album was a 30 track space opera. So the concept, on the whole, works well on “…And Star Power.” They’re a classic rock band incarnate, evident in Johnathan Rado’s utter devotion to singing like Lou Reed and Mick Jagger. The album’s only fault is that it’s just long – so, so long. Twenty minutes could probably be chopped off and it would have the same effect. On top of multiple songs in each section, there’s interludes that just take up more time. But still, Foxygen are cool as hell. There’s a reason they were able to get members of the Flaming Lips, White Fence and Of Montreal to guest on the album. “…And Star Power” is the album that MGMT wishes they could make – expansive, ambitious not to but past a fault, flowing but inconsistent and downright bonkers. If you have 82 minutes to spare, and you’re into indie-garage bands taking pages from psychedelic classic rock, then “…And Star Power” is by all means worth a listen.

If you like this, try: This one’s easy. Jordaan Mason & Horse Museum’s 2009 album “divorce lawyers i shaved my head,” a concept album about a failed marriage between two people confused about their sexual identities. Each song escalates in it’s disturbing and bizarre qualities, but does so at a slow pace so the listener doesn’t pick up on it at first. It’s a confounding work. Mason does his best Jeff Mangum impression throughout.

-By Andrew McNally

Aram Bajakian – “there were flowers also in hell”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Texas Cannonball” “Requiem For 5 Pointz”

It’s almost easy to assume nowadays that a solo, instrumental guitarist will specialize in tender and light ballads that, while virtuosic, are usually pretty corny and repetitive. But that’s not what Aram Bajakian is about. Bajakian had been making a name for himself lately as the touring guitarist for the late Lou Reed. “there were flowers also in hell” proves that Bajakian is more than willing to step into fuzzy and noisy areas. The album opens up to a wide range of influences and emotions, often going for a more guttural response instead of a long-winded arc. There’s a lot going on, often switching flawlessly from fun rhythms to haunting melodies.

“Texas Cannonball” (an ode to Freddie King), and “Orbisonian” directly channel rockabilly bands of the past, with a hot guitar rhythm and uptempo bass and drums, provided by Shazhad Ismaily and Jerome Jennings, respectively. Bonus track “Cat Squirrel” is a lot of fun, too, as a lengthy jam. And “The Kids Don’t Want to Sleep” isn’t exactly a bundle of joy, but it’s noisy and has a pre-grunge remembrance to it.

But the album’s friendlier tracks are not the only standouts. “Requiem For 5 Pointz” sounds like a funeral, with a haunting echo and a slight clacking of what resemble bones. The song brings out a viscerally disturbing response, through what’s ultimately a quiet and simple guitar line. Likewise, “Medicaid Lullaby” has a perturbed feel to it, with an extra poetic sense. Elsewhere on the album, there’s ballads, rock songs, and songs on all sides of the emotional spectrum.

“flowers” is an instrumental album, but Bajakian doesn’t need any lyrics to tell his stories. Every one of the thirteen songs is distinctly different from the next. In fact, the only two that are similar are the two rockabilly throwbacks, and they’re both so fun that it doesn’t matter. He blends noise, rock, and jazz and many other elements without even really trying, or at least hiding it well if he is. Bajakian is a unique presence – enough of a solo presence to be expected at blues clubs, while enough of a amp-destroyer to be seen playing with noise-rock artists. “flowers” is a interesting listen for people of any genre, fans of instrumentals or not.

The album will be available on bandcamp on February 1st.

-By Andrew McNally