At just 22, Foxygen’s Sam France and Jonathan Rado appear to have a hell of a record collection. The fruit of a near decade-long songwriting partnership, the duo’s second album, We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, plays like a tour through all the must-haves at Amoeba records. But Foxygen won’t be accused of apeing a golden era of music. The album’s tones of psychedelic pop appear to be function of both reverence for the past and a knack for crafting the easy melodies underlying the era.
Rather than drowning in homage, 21st Century manages to be simultaneously nostalgic and refreshing. The opening lines of the album’s first single, “San Francisco,” are delivered in a Donovan-esque staccato which suddenly melts into a flowing, Glockenspiel-fueled chorus. “I left my love in San Francisco / (That’s okay, I was bored anyway) / I left my love in a field / (That’s okay, I was born in LA).” The call-and-response neatly exhibits the balance in Foxygen’s songwriting; the first line is pure flower-pop but then the listener is prompted to sing back the modern ironic twist.
Album highlight “Shuggie” is an all too brief stop in another portion of Foxygen’s retro-psyche. Seemingly named after ’70s session great Shuggie Otis, the song pairs a funky tribute to its namesake with a bouncing danceable chorus. The song is dressed up further with lush horns and strings, but the album isn’t all production wizardry. 21st Century’s longest track, “On Blue Mountain” has the makings of a live show scorcher. The song’s sultry verses build into increasingly powerful singalong choruses, complete with a few “ooo oo oooo’s” for good measure. The build and release continues until near the 4 minute where the song breaks into chant. “On the mountain / God will save you / Put the pieces back together” over pounding drum and organ, giving way to a building guitar that finally brings the song to a close.
Recorded in producer Richard Swift’s National Freedom studio, 21st Century is a fitting testament to the pair’s California upbringing. At times, the name associations triggered by the album are exhausting. But it’s tough to complain when Dylan, T-Rex, the Stones, the Kinks, and Lou Reed are each emitting their vapors through your speakers, and the rapid-fire movement across decades hammers home the duo’s impressive songwriting instincts.