Imagine this. David Bowie’s Hunky Dory recorded as a Broadway musical, with contributions from Electric Light Orchestra and Sparks. The musical itself has guest appearances from Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan, Roxy Music, The Kinks, The Eagles and perhaps even Meat Loaf. Mix all those elements and influences and you’ll probably get Foxyen’s Hang. The Californian duo, consisting of Sam France and Jonathan Rado, put loads and loads of influences, references and odes in their songs and invited a symphonic orchestra to join in the fun. It may sound weird, but the result is magnificent.
Foxygen’s breakthrough came with We are the 21st century ambassadors of peace and magic a sunny trip to the sixties. Instead of cashing in on the sound, the next album, …And Star Power, was a psychedelic double album, with a duration of roughly an hour and a half. Just like The Beatles did on Sgt. Pepper’s, the band used a fictional group, Star Power, to go where the band had never gone before. Oh, and there were aliens who took over the radio station Star Power. Despite the unpolished sound, it proved the band’s ambition and versatility. Rado and France apparently worked through a five year plan. The double album was to be succeeded by a symphonic one.
In some areas Hang is the exact opposite of …And Star Power. Foxygen limit their creativity to half an hour and eight tracks. But it doesn’t mean they’re choosing a more linear path. A lot happens within the songs themselves. Lead single Follow the leader has a radio friendliness comparable to the singles from Ambassadors, but the mayhem truly starts during the second track Avalon, a mix of ragtime, musical and ABBA. The same schizophrenia can be found on the short Upon the hill. The bombastic first part of the songs abruptly evolves into glampolka.
The centrepiece of the album is probably mini-musical America, with Sam France changing from a swag crooner, to a dramatic Jagger and ending with the release of his inner Bowie. Despite it bordering on kitsch, it also showcases the musical inventiveness and greatness of Foxygen, able to entertain as well as move. This is certainly a case in the sunny On Lankershim. The album ends with the melodramatic Trauma and the hopeful Rise up.
France’s lyrics are a logical conclusion of the general concept of the album. He sings about unrequited love, the pursuit of dreams, depression, Hollywood and the American dream, along with Christmas and flamingos. Because of its musical context, it all comes together. Although Hang won’t be to everyone’s taste, it would be wrong to just dismiss is at a running gag. Hang is an example of how musical legacies can be used to build a familiar yet unique album.