First Listen: Foxygen, '…And Star Power'
When LPs and cassettes gave way to compact discs in the late '80s and early '90s, many bands seized on the format's 80-minute time limit as a challenge: If a disc can hold that much music, the thought process went, then why shouldn't it? This led to some legendarily bloated albums, as well as an increased tendency to tuck in tossed-off bonus tracks after 20- and 30-minute blocks of silence, until cooler heads and quality control (mostly) prevailed. Now, as more and more music is released digitally — theoretically untethering future albums from any restriction on length at all — new releases have, for the most part, become geared toward ever-shorter attention spans.
All of which helps make ... And Star Power, at an overstuffed and at times seemingly unedited 82 minutes, feel like a throwback in every way. For all its title's talk of star power, the real subject here is excess in all its forms: the unhinged vocal performances, the worship of '70s power pop, the way experiments are both embraced and quickly, unceremoniously discarded. Renowned for its shambolic early live shows, Foxygen's Sam France and Jonathan Rado know how to keep one foot on each side of the line separating barely contained genius from undisciplined indulgence.
Foxygen also knows how to blur it, obscure it, and cross it at will. Ostentatiousness comes easily to guys who titled their first album We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic, and their M.O. here appears to be, "We've had a lot of ideas since our last record. Here are all of them." There's a because-we-can quality to Star Power — particularly in its second half, where "Cold Winter/Freedom" sounds like the sort of sludged-out goof you'd hear in one of those early-'90s bonus tracks — as Foxygen delights in letting its loosest threads unravel.
Still, Foxygen doesn't squander its gift for impeccable, vintage-sounding Technicolor studio pop: For all their shagginess, "How Can You Really," "Star Power III: What Are We Good For" and others hit giddy, playful highs. But on ...And Star Power, Foxygen mostly exhibits self-control as a means of demonstrating a willingness to loosen its grip. The result cracks open a fire hydrant of ideas meant to tantalize and frustrate, dazzle and baffle. Mission accomplished, all at once.—Stephen Thompson