With full orchestra in tow, Foxygen’s Sam France and Jonathan Rado deliver an absurdly overblown, gloriously over-the-top album celebrating all of pop's excesses without the slightest hint of ironic detachment.
For a band perpetually on the verge of packing it in, Foxygen have, with Hang, delivered a solidly declarative statement, one struck through with a level of commitment and dazzling confidence not seen since the era of overblown operatic pop they unabashedly ape throughout. Borrowing a page from the Meatloaf/Jim Steinman/Todd Rundgren playbook, Sam France and Jonathan Rado up the ante in nearly every conceivable aspect of their sound, resulting in their biggest, most lavishly composed genre pastiche yet.
After the transitional nature of 2014’s …And Star Power and the questionable status of the band following their now apparently tongue-in-cheek “Farewell Tour", the prospect of the group coming back with any statement, let alone one as monumental as this, was seriously in doubt. And yet here they are in 2017 going for broke and a complete and total disregard for prevailing trends, embracing some of pop’s most overinflated tropes without the slightest hint of ironic detachment. In other words, Hang represents the work of pop’s equivalent of the consummate thrift store denizens coming out lavishly decked out in their gaudiest finest.
Intricate, overblown arrangements make Hang ludicrously big and pompous, yet there’s enough levity present to prevent it from becoming a bloated disaster. Instead, it’s a wickedly fun romp through the more esoteric reaches of the last 100 years of popular music with a heavy emphasis on theatricality. Given the current generation of musicians’ penchant for cultural recycling and unbridled nostalgia, it simply serves to make sense that a band like Foxygen, one who has built their entire career around nostalgic pilfering, would craft the ideal culmination of cultural re-appropriation. It’s a silly, far-from-self-serious pastiche that borrows from scores of artists and ideas across its eight tracks.
Indeed, France’s vocal vacillation between Bowie, Reed, and Jagger makes “spot the musical reference” all the more disorienting. On “Avalon",for instance, the backing vocals suddenly break into the melody from ABBA’s “Waterloo” while the rest of the band plows ahead, going full bore into an amalgamation of Tin Pan Alley, early rock ‘n’ roll, show tunes, jazz, and whateverthefuckelse they can cram in. Similarly, “Mrs. Adams” effortlessly flits between Lou Reed, Pulp, Elvis Costello, the Rolling Stones and standard issue AOR, all within its four-and-a-half-minute runtime. This approach holds true for the whole of Hang, the band gleefully picking and choosing from the last half century plus of pop music to create a modern-day musical Frankenstein’s monster of songs, personas, and styles.
Making full use of the large orchestra at their disposal, France and Rado pack each and every track to the point of bursting, the grandiosity of each threatening to cause the whole thing to unravel. Given their complete and total commitment to the gimmick (if we can even call it that at this point), it never once falters. Instead, from opening track “Follow the Leader” on, they barrel through each track with a gaudy style and sophistication befitting everyone from the aforementioned Meat Loaf to Sparks to Harry Nilsson and all pop sophisticate points in between. It’s not for nothing that they refer to Hang as their first proper studio album: here they completely abandon their bedroom pop aesthetic for complete and total studio excess.
Given the sheer amount of music going on within each, it takes more than a few listens to unpack everything fully in each. Despite this intricacy and attention to detail, Foxygen never lose sight of the point of pop music in general and ensure each carries with it an easily identifiable melody and structure that can be enjoyed cursorily as a whole as well as on a more microscopic level (see in particular the gorgeous “On Lankershim”). It is through this type of carefully selected appropriation of some of the best elements of pop song craft that they have managed to distil the very essence of pop’s potential when functioning at its best, most cerebral levels. Nowhere is this perhaps more evident than on the absurdly idea-saturated, stylistic whiplash that is “America", as song as multifaceted and unpredictable as the titular nation itself.
Hang is the sound of a group of pop music pirates taking their nostalgia-steeped aesthetic to its gloriously overblown conclusion. Holding absolutely nothing back, Foxygen deliver an absurdly grandiose album that should not work nearly as well as it does. Hang is the type of album for which the sobriquet “pop masterpiece” was intended. Because of exactly this point, it will prove equally divisive with listeners flocking to one extreme reaction or the other; the is no middle ground in one’s opinion of the album, nor should there be. Those who enjoy their pop music ludicrously larger than life will no doubt find a new favorite in Hang, while those who prefer a certain level of self-seriousness will likely despise each and every moment herein. Regardless, Hang is truly something to behold in all its grandiosity and pompous pure pop bombast.