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Sam France and Jonathan Rado are so in sync—to the point where they seem to know what the other is thinking throughout their musical process. For a 15-year music-making friendship, this is something to be treasured. After a three-year hiatus since …And Star Power, the duo known as Foxygen has released one of their most ambitious works yet, Hang.
In the three years since their last album, beyond the duo listening to artists like Ariel Pink and Sly & The Family Stone, France has been working on producing records for other bands—which truly lent itself to the unique sonic elements present in Hang. At this point in their career, Foxygen knew exactly which sounds they wanted to produce, and how to get them.
Cinematic in feel, Hang not only features the vocals and intriguing sonic twists, but backing by a 40-piece orchestra throughout its duration. Ambitious, indeed. “I think we think of all of our albums as films, and this is an old Hollywood ’30s film, I guess,” France notes. “We think of our records as experiences and as movies and as immersions; we immerse people in stuff. We made it for ourselves, and we made it for everybody else. We wanted to make just another movie that shows another side of these two people.”
With this album, they’re creating not only a new experience, but a new identity, too. Each one can be revisited, of course—but the goal is to keep changing, and keep growing, as France states. “I think the characters that we were in the past few records were these at a missed time, missed place rock stars. And at this time, we’ve kind of cleaned ourselves up a little bit, brushed off some of the dust, put on a tuxedo, and did our thing.”
Hang was recorded completely on 2” tape—which isn’t a new thing for the band, but it’s something that is done more for practicality, because as the band clarifies, you’re “analyzing it with your ears instead of your eyes.” Along with enlisting orchestral performers, Foxygen also reached out to some of their closest musician friends. For rhythm, they looked to Brian and Michael D’Addario, brothers from blossoming group the Lemon Twigs. For ingenuity, they looked to multi-instrumentalist member of the Flaming Lips, Steven Drozd. As Foxygen calls out, the Lemon Twigs are a brother-based band; they’re also close-knit and able to feed off of each other’s musical energy.
When asked which song is most precious to the duo, I’m met with a bit of silence before a decisive answer. “It’s weird because the whole album feels like one massive piece to me. A lot of it. What do you think, Rado?” asks France. Rado chimes in with his affinity for “On Lankershim,” yet comes to the same conclusion—this album is better not in parts, but as a whole. In contrast to And Star Power…, a wholehearted concept through and through, Hang doesn’t tell a narrative, but it asserts the identity of Foxygen with an orchestra, which is a story in and of itself.
The joy in this album comes not only from the sounds, but of the process used to create it. New sonic elements? Well, besides the 40-piece orchestra, you’ll find a crisp sound that’s standard of Foxygen. This time, the communication between France and Rado and the review process lent itself to a truly cohesive work.
“It was more of a communication thing. More of a way of just not tinkering around forever, just knowing I want this sound. We want to get this very particular sound and know what does that? How to do that?” France extrapolates. France also states that the review process is built completely around trust. Both musicians know exactly which sounds the others prefer, and which they don’t. There’s a lot of respect, and not a lot of shutting down ideas. With a 15-year musical partnership, they know what they want out of their work. And it shows. “Don’t make it [music] with anybody but Rado,” France says with a laugh. Though they’re collaborating with other artists, their band is the most important factor in the equation. “It’s a low-pressure thing, even though it’s a professional band, it’s what we do for fun.”
With the current state of the union, I undoubtedly wondered if themes of divisiveness and the issues we’re facing every day would come into play on Hang. Spoiler alert: Hang is focused on anything but. “We were not trying to relate to modern things at all, and that’s what Foxygen is, too. It’s an escape for me, so anything put into it is more subconscious and more poetic and more mysterious. I’m never going into Foxygen with a political angle in any way—so far. Who knows what will happen,” France states.
Though it’s not discussing the climate of the times, Hang is certainly helping people process them, which France explains: “I wanted these heavy, archetypal themes that people would immediately be hooked into and immediately go to the human soul and heart, and I think using those big themes, it’s become obvious how people are using this album to process things for themselves, which is good. It’s about self-analysis. It’s about going inside oneself – that’s what that album [Hang] is, and I think people are doing that now with themselves, listening to it and then revealing how they feel.”
This mentality seeps into the album art as well, which was created by France himself. Worked on for more than a year, the artwork was meant to depict the Los Angeles cityscape, and uses rich tones and textures to do so. But what’s cool about the artwork is the fact that it was literally sitting on Rado’s floor during its creation. “I just wanted it to represent the record and so I just had it on the floor of my room, and I’d walk on it, and dirt and shit would get kicked on it, and I just wanted to live on top of it while I was writing and recording Hang. And I wanted to paint whatever came to me over a slow process, and what it ended up being was sort of this abstract LA cityscape, where it’s you can see the ocean or hill or something’s burning down in the background, and this sort of surrealist landscape.”
Hang has become more than an album, but an assertion of Foxygen’s identity. Where will they go next? Time will tell, but we’re certainly eager to see the next direction this dynamic duo is going to take.
Standout Track: “America”
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