Released in 2013, the obnoxiously-titled We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is nine tracks that sound like they were lifted out of the previous century. Many reviews state the comparisons between this album and early Velvet Underground albums, statements which are totally valid. At times, singer, Sam France, carries some of the guttural tones reminiscent of Lou Reed with elements of the avant-garde. The Velvet Underground are often cited as one of the most historically influential bands in music, and the results are pleasantly apparent here. I had to continually remind myself that Foxygen was from California, not the New York scene that tends to produce Velvet facsimiles.
There are hints of sixties pop and rock music all over this album, not just from the Velvets. Some songs sound like Beatles; I hear bits of Fleetwood here and there. There has been obvious care to preserve the sounds of classic equipment, for example, in the instrumental track “Bowling Trophies” which serves as the midway point in the album. Even the enigmatic cover looks like something that you could unearth at a used record shop. I hesitate to use the word, “retro,” a meaningless word that has been so bastardized that it is now a smug fashion statement, but the album is truly an honorable evocation of classic pop.
That said, the title of the album may be more accurate than I thought (although still just as troublesome to say aloud). As France howls on the titular track, they are the 21st century. Perhaps their roles as ambassadors is to connect modern music with pop music of the sixties. Not to say we necessarily need more homage to classic pop, but it is welcome when done correctly. Many artists may attempt this link to earlier musical roots, but Foxygen does it quite neatly here.
The positives of this album are not limited only to its resemblance to music of decades past. That makes it seem that this album is unoriginal: not so. Beyond its influences, the album is simply a joy to listen to. Fairly short, it packs a lot into 35 minutes, feeling longer and more full. The sultry “Oh Yeah” is counterpointed by poppy love songs like “San Francisco.” The single, “No Destruction,” is one you can put on repeat. The final three songs create a sort of cerebral trilogy that could function as an EP by themselves. In short, the album is a fine-tuned collection of songs, reverent to decades-old music, but easily enjoyable by today’s listeners.
The production on the music is amazing as well. Throughout the tracks, it is easy to forget that this is a two-man band. Naturally, invaluable backing musicians are impossible to discredit, but the work is mostly done by France and Jonathan Rado. The songs sound full while retaining a sharp, clear tone. From backing strings to electric organs, there is a lot of music to unpack.
Foxygen’s newest album will probably continue to grow on me; in the meantime, Peace & Magic proves a near-perfect example of a classic pop revival. Whether you are a fan of rock music from yesterday or yesteryear, this release will be a pleasure to experience.