For the past two years, alternative music has been particularly retrospective, and Foxygen feel very much like the sum of their recent retro-rock influences, rather than anything more. The psychedelic slouch of 21st Century feels like a platonic imitation of an imitation. Foxygen do a good impression of The Black Keys, and an ever better one of Tame Impala, to whom they will inevitably (and unfavourably) be compared. The band’s imitative tendencies, however, mean they can only ever be so convincing in their own right. Foxygen make all the right noises, and that’s precisely the issue with this album: these noises have been made before, and made better.
Foxygen’s commitment to a west-coast psychedelic aesthetic creates a strong sense of cohesion across these nine tracks, but feels rather slavish. Where there are moments of genuine emotional resonance, they are, without exception, tainted by the heavy-handed addition of a wig-out coda or a ‘whoa, dude!’ change of tempo or key. ‘Shuggie’ unfurls elegantly for all of a minute before it’s interrupted by a half-baked T-Mobile advert-soundalike chorus. ‘No Destruction’ and ‘Oh Yeah’ are similarly blunted by their long, inert concluding phrases, whilst ‘Bowling Trophies’ resembles just such a coda shorn of its parent song.
On occasion, Foxygen cleverly subvert their tendency towards retro-worship. The all-male Ronettes-style harmonies of ‘On Blue Mountain’, for example, are genuinely funny, and swell within the piece to gorgeous beauty. Such moments of self-conscious humour, however, don’t disguise the truth they attempt to undermine. Their exhortations to “rearrange your mind/if it makes you feel fine”, or “chew on gum/if it makes you have fun” make 21st Century feel tie-dyed by numbers. If Foxygen are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Love, their album is their embassy. They have the flag and they speak the language, but the turf they tread is someone else’s.