...And Star Power

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...And Star Power Review

by Fred Thomas

Sam France and Jonathan Rado took Foxygen from being their high-school recording project to capturing the attention of the independent music community at large with stellar albums that blended multiple classic rock & roll reference points into catchy collage-minded tunes. Their 2013 effort We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic saw the band at the peak of its powers, channeling (or directly borrowing from) Dylan, Jagger, Bowie, Reed, and dozens of other rock innovators but somehow avoiding coming off as sheer derivation through inspired songwriting, carefully groomed presentation, and an unnameable charm. With follow-up ...And Star Power, Foxygen expand outward from their concentrated songwriting style, offering up a stuffed double album that zips from murky FM radio rock to bristling punk and back to cosmic balladry over its 24 tracks and 82-minute playing time. Divided loosely into four parts, the album begins with a chapter titled "The Hits & Star Power Suite." This is a brazen but honest move on the band's part, because the album does indeed begin with four of its strongest tunes. "How Can You Really" taps into the same late-night confessional feel of Todd Rundgren's '70s hits, moving along breezily with a choir of perky background singers, horn sections, and the hookiest chorus of the album. Sludgier but still catchy are soft rock ballad "Coulda Been My Love" and "Cosmic Vibrations," a tune that shifts from a burst of "White Light/White Heat" noise into a morphine-addled reworking of Bob Dylan's "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowland." The first quarter of the album has the most shadows of what made the band stand out initially. Even the sometimes annoying ambling of "Star Power Suite" eventually coagulates into an anthemic high point with "What Are We Good For," its third and most songlike movement. Shortly afterwards, however, the album gives in to its overstuffed impulses, offering up half-baked songs, formless jamming, tweaky punk interludes, and what amounts to nearly an hour of trying to separate the muddy filler from anything even remotely inspired. With its few gems often separated by long stretches of queasy, confusing tracks, almost half of the album could have easily been left on the cutting-room floor. That might be the point. The unedited flailing, strung-out production, and half-asleep vibe that permeates much of ...And Star Power is no doubt intentional, and works sometimes. Foxygen's meticulous attention to detail is one of the best aspects of their sound, and even when they're burying decent ideas beneath demo-quality performances on songs like "Cannibal Holocaust" and "Everyone Needs Love," it's clear they're making exactly the album they set out to. Looking to impenetrable, over-ambitious albums like A Wizard, a True Star as blueprints gives a little context to what may have inspired the often exhausting nature of ...And Star Power. Unfortunately, the final product often feels joyless and manic, and many listeners may give up before sitting through the entire beast.

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