January 30 2013
An accurate title of this album review could be “Mick Jagger Uses Time Machine to Bring Back 22 Year Old Self to Start New Indie Buzz Band.” It could also be “Rolling Stones Cover Band Releases Own Material.” Or possibly even “Hyped Album Released, Handsome Intern Tries to ‘Get’ It.” To be honest, I could write an entire article full of potential titles for my review of We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. There’s a lot to discuss when it comes to indie music’s latest obsession, Foxygen. Released on the Jagjaguwar label (Bon Iver, Sharon Van Etten) this album is the breakthrough for a band that’s been around since 2005.
At 22 years old a piece, singer Jonathan Rado and guitarist/keyboardist Sam France have been doing this for a while. Since they were in high school, Rado and France have been emulating the sounds of 60s psychadelia with a twist of indie rock. The opening track of We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic reveals their inspirations almost immediately. “In the Darkness” starts as a sprawling, epic tune meant to be shouted in a field somewhere, but ends after only two minutes. Thankfully, the next track “No Destruction” is where the Rolling Stones homage begins and the album takes off. Rado can do a mean Mick Jagger impression and does his best to emulate his idol with a voice that oozes with Jagger’s trademark soul. It’s eerie. They even look a little bit alike. However, where “No Destruction” has its moments of psychedelic throwback, “On Blue Mountain” is made entirely of a youthful yearning for the 1960s and is the highlight of the album. The major flaw of We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is the simplicity of the song structures, but “On Blue Mountain” is one of the only tracks to have a diverse beginning, middle, and end. Even the popular “San Francisco” succumbs to having the same bland melody throughout the song.
The hits from the album have been the first two singles “Shuggie” and the previously mentioned “San Francisco.” And now is my opportunity to break away from other reviews of this album: I really don’t like either of these songs. Maybe I just don’t “get” it. Maybe my Indie Hype Detector is incorrectly calibrated. Or maybe I’m just too old for the buzz band game (19 is the new 65, or so I’m told…). Something about these two just doesn’t click. To me, “Shuggie” and “San Francisco” are like a bland-tasting smoothie made from Of Montreal, MGMT, a couple of sleeping pills, and garnished with muddy flower petals that an ex-hippie kept to remind him of the good ol’ days. Sure there’s some good stuff in these songs, but they make me sleepy and I shouldn’t operate heavy machinery after listening to them. Plus, they act as bookends to the weakest song on the album: “Bowling Trophies,” an instrumental that embodies the repetitive nature plaguing the rest of the songs.
The final highlight of the album is the title track itself which sounds more like Foxygen’s previous efforts (Take the Kids Off Broadway and Kill Art, specifically). It’s refreshing, but it’s too little too late. Someone must have lost the distortion petal in between “On Blue Mountain” and “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic,” which would have been nice to have during the low-energy middle of the album.
Aside from a few non-singles, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is a disappointing album. Some people reading this may love it, but it could have been better. If Foxygen corrected the few fundamental flaws, they would be much more than a talked about opener on a few big name tours. They’d be able to pull off their own headlining shows and make the rounds on the festival circuit. But just like their dream of being in the 60s, my dream of Foxygen living up to their potential hasn’t come true… yet. Perhaps Jagger really does have that time machine and will fix the next album.