I like Foxygen’s music, but I don’t think it belongs to them. After an initial EP in 2011, the duo of Sam France & Jonathan Rado were quickly scooped up by Bloomington, Indiana-based independent label Jagjaguwar. They released the bands debut full-length album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic earlier this year. Wistful, lo-fi yarns strung around the fingers of classic rock like a cat’s cradle game slowly unravel as modernity claws at the reusable strands of the songs’ tropes and sonic composition. Let me be clear, I don’t think their music is bad, but elements of the band feel worn-thin and pilfered in 2013.
If we continue to laud bands like Foxygen for successfully aping the music of the past, we will never arrive at a place that allows us to imagine new and innovative sounds—specifically in the genre of “indie rock.”
The immovable sounds, feelings and aura of the ‘60s continues to be exalted by the current generation (I’m talking ‘bout my generation)—and the basis for this feels faulty at best. A backward-glancing set of aesthetic principles seems unavoidable in certain ways for any art form. Indeed, the most exemplary art goes unnoticed while in the climate of its own present moment. This happened for painter Van Gogh and poet Emily Dickinson, we see the awe that deceased artists like Kurt Cobain, the Notorious B.I.G., Ian Curtis and even Janis Joplin have curried in the wake of their untimely deaths. But it seems that fawning over the retrospectively-gilded age of that pivotal decade has reached a point of saturation—one that is fully characterized in Foxygen.
Dragging a long history of unheard and vividly named tapes and unreleased records from the past in their wake, Foxygen have created a mythology that imbues them with the vast “back catalog” that so many classic rock groups possess. But in reality? France and Rado seem to have copped their very lifeblood from the Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Bowie and The Stones. What does this mean for us, a world desperate for meaningful music that pushes the creation of new and entrancing art forward? It means a closed feedback loop, it means entrenchment—it means retrogression. Regardless of the group’s compelling musicianship, obvious energy and relentless passion, in a way they are puppeting sounds and ideas that were enacted—and came to fruition—years ago.
The phrasing style, tone and even melodic composition of “No Destruction” is far too similar to Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” to not immediately call Bob’s precursor to mind. Put on The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” and compare France’s vocal stylings to Lou Reed’s—the two styles are too close for Foxygen to cite Reed as a mere influence, which interestingly enough, they do. Claiming themselves as the “de-Wes Andersonization of The Rolling Stones, Kinks, Velvets, Bowie, etc” that declaration can be a hard pill to swallow after watching their music video for “San Francisco” which viewers would be hard-pressed to tell apart from a scene in Anderson’s latest film Moonrise Kingdom. They even bring a Neko Case stand-in female vocalist to cool alongside the refrains in that track. In hip-hop, there’s a term for stealing the vocal style of another rapper, it’s called “biting the flow” and if either Reed or Bowie felt like pressing charges here, Foxygen would easily be convicted of this crime.
“Indie rock” if one may even be so bold as to take that nomenclature in hand and dub it a genre, has reached a stand-still in original thought. While other genres like hip-hop, electronic, and even country/folk music progress in new and fascinating directions, what has become of rock & roll? A genre predicated on rebellion, individuality and fiery indifference has melted into a slew of packaged action figures in lieu of in-the-flesh heroes. Why does their own label have to invoke monumental, creative figures who changed the flow of culture like Wes Anderson or The Kinks to describe Foxygen’s art? And to further claim that the duo is separating the quirky, side-eyed naiveté from the classic rock sounds they are nicking is even farther off-base.