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All day I’ve been trying to come up with outdated words to describe this album.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

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MGMT – “MGMT”

(Photo Credit: thelineofbestfit.com)

Grade: C

Key Tracks: “Your Life Is a Lie,” “Plenty of Girls in the Sea”

With their 2007 debut, “Oracular Spectacular,” MGMT burst onto the scene with mainstream experimentation that hadn’t been seen since the Talking Heads. More conventional than Animal Collective and giddier than Radiohead, MGMT showed the world that experimental pop could be popular while still being ‘weird.’ What the band struggled with after, though, was following it up. Refusing to make an album as catchy as their debut, they released 2010′s confusing and inconsistent “Congratulations.” And now, in 2013, we have a self-titled album that regrettably fits in between the two. “MGMT” has the more conventional natures of their debut without the catchiness, and the abstract qualities of “Congratulations” without any of the fun tonal shifts.

“MGMT” is the band’s first structured and consistent record, and it works nicely as a whole listen. Their first two albums were designed around enjoying tracks individually, while “MGMT” is almost only listenable as a full album. The transitions between songs aren’t as rough as their previous albums, as songs more represent differing pieces of a whole instead of standalone tracks. Individually, though, the songs lack the goofiness and urgency that their other albums enjoy. “Congratulations” was too confusing and too messy, but the energetic “Flash Delirium” is still one of the most fun four and a half minute songs out there. There’s no energy on “MGMT,” evidenced by the frustratingly mid-tempo opener, “Alien Days.” Every song wallows in synth-heavy rhythms, without actually having catchy hooks. The far and away catchiest track is “Plenty of Girls in the Sea,” which doesn’t come until the penultimate spot. There are certain spots, like the nearly six minute “I Love You Too, Death” where the band takes some time to actually develop something musically, but they’re few and far between.

One of the strongest points of both “Oracular Spectacular” and “Congratulations” was the clarity of the vocals, no matter what crazy melodies were happening behind it. Here, the vocals are intentionally buried behind distortion, taking more inspiration from Lightning Bolt than Elvis Costello. It’s very easy to ignore the vocals and take your focus away from the often interesting lyrics.

“MGMT” would have been the logical transition between the band’s first two albums, had it come out earlier. Now, it just sounds like a weird conglomerate that takes the faults of both albums. It’s not a bad record, but it just feels rushed and distant. The individual songs all sound a little too similar, and none of them are catchy enough to be hits nor experimental enough to be worthy of the MGMT name. The band should be praised for constantly experimenting off what their last record was, but nearly every part of “MGMT” just feels dull and underprepared.

If you like this, try: Animal Collective’s superb 2012 album, “Centipede Hz”