By Braxton Randolph
Just under 3 years ago was the last time we heard a new album from rock duo Sam France and Jonathon Rado, otherwise known as Foxygen. …And Star Power, which was released in October of 2014, was the abundant 24-track album that bounced around just about as much as the band’s personnel situation has in their time. Fast forward to January 2017, and the band seems to have found some stability with their new album, Hang.
Hang is an eight song album that feels like the start of a new beginning for the band, as they collaborate with orchestral conductor Trey Pollard and singer Matthew E. White. The 40-something piece orchestral arrangement is the primary driving force behind the album, along with Sam France’s imaginative lyricism of course. However, one song, “On Lankershim,” sort of deviates from the orchestral sound back to the vibe of the band just jamming out. Any casual fans of past albums will likely gravitate toward this song first because it encapsulates the band’s past sound more than anything else on the album. The song named after Lankershim Boulevard, a street in Northern Hollywood, is fitting as that’s where the band, as well as their sound, originated.
With the orchestral arrangement being such a prevalent piece of the album, you have your pros and cons. A con is that the album sometimes becomes a bit much and it seems like there’s too much going on, specifically on “Rise Up.” In my opinion, this is an album you’ll have a hard time throwing on for background music, as it demands your full attention (which is not necessarily a bad thing). However, with songs such as “America,” a pro is that you’re able to pack symbolism within the musical arrangement. “America” begins with the frightful sounds of piano keys, violins, and a horn of some sort, which could represent the times we are in. Sam France exclaims that “Our heroes aren’t brave, they just got nothing to lose because they’re all living in America!” The musical arrangement also goes back and forth between a series of joyful then tense melodies that could play on an American’s experience, or possibly a timeline of America itself.
My personal favorite song on the album at the moment is “Trauma.” The song starts off with a seamless transition from the previous song, “Upon a Hill,” which is brought in by violins, keys and Sam France telling “All you people who confuse and abuse” to “Be gone and throw your parapets into the fire.” “Rise Up,” the tune to follow, is also a song you don’t want to look over. If you can get past the Mick Jagger-like, drawn out vocals that begin it (unless you’re into that), you arrive at one of the more pleasant melodies and messages on the album.
All in all, I’m curious to find out if Foxygen sticks with the orchestral arrangement for future projects, or if this will this just be chalked up to experimentation. The sound definitely works for them on most of Hang. However, there’s always room for improvement.