There’s not much mind-bendingly different about Foreign Born. Their story is a typical one—form, tour, release a couple of EPs, build a name, record an album, sign with a reputable label, rinse, repeat. The elements of their music—the fuzzed-out psychedelia, the squalling guitars and plaintive vocals—it all seems on paper to be indie rock by the books. So how, then, with the release of On the Wing Now, does this band sound so fresh?
The answer is, in one way, simple: execution. The songs that make up this record are as meticulously recorded and executed as pop music gets. They’re as dense and lush as they are stick-in-your-craw catchy. And the listener would be hard-pressed to find a bad song on the record. In an age where we’re flooded with indie rock bands from every blogged-out angle, Foreign Born get up on their tip-toes and rise above the rest.
You need look no further than opener “Union Hall” for evidence. The song blips once or twice before launching into its hard-shuffle beat, topped by a group chant that could be the Gregorian step-brother to Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” choir. When vocalist Matt Popieluch comes in to kick off the verse, his emotive voice is immediately set against the choir, and the shuffle beat which switches into a pace as off-kilter and brash as it can be without upending the whole song. “Union Hall” sets a precedent that carries through the record, one where the song builds on itself, creating shimmering walls of sound and soaring guitars that’ll remind you of the days when U2 could make all that noise without the self-congratulatory pomp.
And the U2 reference point is not the only one to be found with Foreign Born. In fact, one of the more wonderful things about On the Wing Now is not only the amount of influences that are put to good use, but also the variety of influences. Besides the bombast of big sound bands like U2, there are subtle elements of chamber pop and folk butting right up against the more melodic side of shoegaze. This mashing of seemingly disparate elements makes for songs full of small surprises and air-tight compositions.
If there’s a song that suffers from a lack of invention, it is “Into Your Dream”, a straight fuzz-pop song that is good in its own right, but set against these other, more complex songs doesn’t hold up quite as well as it could. Song for song, this is a strong album, though it could be argued that they don’t necessarily come together totally as an album. The middle of the record, from “It Wasn’t Said to Ask” to “Don’t Take Back Your Time”, settles into a mid-tempo that takes away from the strengths of the individual songs. None of these songs are bad, and “Don’t Take Back Your Time” turns dense and brooding and compelling, eventually forcing the album to pull out of the power-pop middle to bring it to a more satisfying conclusion. The middle songs are also set just one song after the aforementioned “Into Your Dreams”, and that song, the brilliant “Trial Wall”, could be passed over when surrounded by so many like-minded songs. Luckily, “Trial Wall”, with its Bowie-esque chorus (“We’ve got five years to float on fire…”) and churning drums and guitar, stands out the way “Union Hall” does, and late album tracks like the psych-folk leaning “Holy Splinter” and sublime closer “Never Wrong”—which starts off like a sped-up “Union Hall” before growing into its own noisy beast—bring On the Wing Now back to where it thrives. In the end, Foreign Born’s more upbeat, fuzz-rock offerings just don’t hold a candle to their more densely orchestrated brooders.
Still, this is a talented band no matter what they do, and while they shouldn’t be afraid to strip a little more of the pop out of their first album, it comes off as far more polished than most indie rock debuts can claim, and with reports coming out of the Foreign Born camp claiming they already have another album’s worth of material ready, it sounds like we’ll be hearing from these guys again soon. Hopefully, they’ll take advantage of all On the Wing Now gives them to build on.