...And Star Power
When I was five years old, I played in a band with a pair of ten year old twins who lived down the block from me. We were called the Roos. We recorded all our “albums” on a Sony tape recorder. My parents played Sgt. Pepper’s and Magical Mystery Tour on cassette for me in the car all the time, and I couldn’t get enough. The twins were pretty into psychedelic fab five too, so we tried to emulate the strange carnival surrealism of those albums (not that we actually played with those intellectual concepts in mind). With the twins’ piano and an arsenal of toy instruments (xylophone, toy piano, myriad whistles and drums, a broken ukulele, and a tiny toy tape recorder with a microphone that made the softest noise sound distorted), we made these playful, anarchic tapes that could’ve been mistaken for recordings of Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests. I was reminded of those old Roos tapes when I first listened to California psych duo Foxygen’s new 82-minute double album, …And Star Power. Not only does this record have the same lo-fi production, there’s also the same sense of innocent exploration and total disregard (and reverence) for traditional pop song structures. I can see the band digging through a closet full of old, half-broken church organs and off-brand guitars, throwing sounds and fleeting ideas into this pot of vintage All-American weirdness just to see what would happen.
The album is a collage both in its literal production and its tapestry of references. “Star Power Airlines” opens the record with heavy feedback, the engine of the band revving up into chaos. Largely unintelligible voices echo around the room cracking wise, and just as the song works itself into a heavy-psych groove, the record slows down and feedback takes over again. Then, they jump cut directly into “How Can You Really,” a bright ‘70s power pop single recorded on ‘60s bubble gum equipment. Bizarre juxtapositions like this are littered throughout ...And Star Power.
The songs themselves can’t even settle into one mood or genre. “Cosmic Vibrations” launches with fifteen seconds of maniacal, pounding, motorik Krautrock, only to jump ship into glum, Syd Barrett-style freak folk for a few minutes and close with a triumphant ramp that could have been from the Hair soundtrack. On the four-song “Star Power” suite, arguably the album’s centerpiece, the band gestures towards the medieval mythos of early heavy metal; the weirdo-lounge of early Residents; the thundering protopunk of Death; and Exile on Main St.-style honky-tonk recklessness. But these songs don’t descend into pointless genre-parody and they certainly don’t suffer from a lack of original ideas. Like The Mothers of Invention before them, Foxygen manage to balance out their sense of humor and impulse towards chaos with genuinely catchy pop melodies.
What separates this album from the onslaught of stoned and chaotic garage rock records we’ve seen picking the tie-dyed bones of Nuggets over the last few years? I think it comes down to this: …And Star Power isn’t lazy. Foxygen don’t make discombobulated psych rock because they don’t have the facility to write a coherent pop song. They don’t run out of ideas and they rarely repeat themselves. If the legions of young, hip twentysomethings wearing Burger Records patches on their jean jackets and wielding Rickenbackers at basement shows all sounded as legitimately psychotic as Foxygen, I’d have a lot more hope for the future of rock ‘n’ roll.