Imitation is a funny thing. Folks say it’s a sincere form of flattery, but it often comes across as a pale copy of the trailblazers that have come before. In the case of Foxygen’s second full-length album, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, imitation is used as a starting point for a record that expands on the band’s sound, taking the listener through an immaculate record that only gets better with each subsequent spin.
Foxygen plays it fast and loose with their psychedelic homages. The opener “On Blue Mountain” features a wall of sound that feels like it’s come straight out of Their Satanic Majesty’s Request. The lyrics are suitably distorted and nonsensical, at times bordering on parody, yet somehow the band keeps it together enough to create a song that transcends its origins. The follow-up, “No Destruction,” sounds like the drunken cousin of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” quietly wobbling and careening its way through a carnival of controlled chaos. Where Dylan’s tune revels in the darkness of being down and out, Foxygen turns its song into a kiss-off to east coast hipsters, with the line “there’s no need to be an asshole/you’re not in Brooklyn anymore” dripping with disdain for the scene.
Then there’s the gorgeous “San Francisco,” a trippy number that makes cheeky references to Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” while showing subtle longing for Los Angeles. The band follows this lovely tune with the instrumental “Bowling Trophies,” a song that would not sound out of place in one of Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse epics.
Plenty of recent bands have dabbled in psychedelia, but few have truly been able to find that perfect synthesis of marrying the genre’s sound with their band’s identity. By the time the album’s seventh track, “Oh Yeah,” hits the speakers, Foxygen has managed to bring their own sensibility, turning those long ago sounds of the Zombies and the 13th Floor Elevators into their own.
With We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, Foxygen has managed to create a well-crafted album that stands as one of the best of the young year. Producer Richard Swift has taken what was a smart-ass group of kids with a fun, yet uneven debut album, and given them the guidance needed to create a record that feels like a complete piece. In a world where music is created for use on mixes and your iPod’s shuffle, an album centered around sequential importance is a landmark in itself. Foxygen’s new album is not only a cohesive work, but a major statement, making this a band to keep an eye on.