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In May 2011, musicians Jonathan Rado and Sam France ventured to a club in New York’s Lower East Side to watch singer-songwriter Richard Swift perform. After the show, Rado and France — known collectively as Foxygen — handed Swift a copy of their homemade album, Take the Kids Off Broadway, which they'd mixed and burned that same night. As the story goes, Swift liked the recording so much that he began recording with Foxygen eight months later.
The result is We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, which doesn’t truly reveal itself until the end. As the soundtrack fades on ‘Oh No 2,’ France’s inflection jumps from John Lennon, to Paul McCartney, to Jim Morrison in mere seconds, giving us a clear glimpse into the band’s influences. From its hippy pop sound to the floral clothing they wear, France and Rado are clearly transfixed by the Sixties — the decade's carefree simplicity and charming petulance. But instead of recreating the past, they nod to it with a wink and wry smile, taking artistic cues from The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, while putting their own unique spin on those signature sounds.
Consequently, Peace & Magic is a free-spirited foray through familiar terrain. Though the songs are a bit scatterbrained, France and Rado leapfrog traditional genres with youthful confidence, none of which sounds contrived. ‘On Blue Mountain,’ the album’s centerpiece, is perhaps the best example. At the onset, France makes good use of a sultry soul groove before it speeds to a driving rock rhythm. That’s when France does his best Ziggy Stardust over an energetic blend of distorted guitars and piano chords. Then just as suddenly, the track grinds almost to a halt, and France struts confidently atop the methodical blues procession. ‘Mountain’ ends with a religious call-and-response; France shouts God’s mercy with a punk-rock zeal that’s part Sunday school, part Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall.’
Other songs aren’t so lofty. ‘San Francisco’ is Peace & Magic’s most accessible track, its floating chimes and innocent cadence a direct descendent of Sixties Brit-pop. And while ‘Bowling Trophies’ is transitional, its muzzled funk and muted wails resemble music from a Quentin Tarantino film. France attacks the title track with Mick Jagger-like abandon, belligerently screaming the lyrics until they’re almost incomprehensible. That, too, lends to the album’s lighthearted approach; every word on this project is spoken with a charismatic nonchalance, even if the meaning isn’t easily discernable.
On ‘Shuggie,’ for instance: “I met your daughter the other day, well that was weird/She had rhinoceros-shaped earrings in her ears.” Then there’s ‘No Destruction’ and the album’s lasting takeaway: “There’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore.” It’s a subtle and well-timed jab at the New York borough, though it wasn’t delivered with malicious intent. What’s left is a fascinating collection of liberated rock tunes, which all speak to Foxygen’s magnetic bravado. These songs don’t linger too long, and the album — with its 36-minute runtime — feels efficient and complete. Peace & Magic harbours the same DIY ethos as Broadway, just with a bigger budget. Thank goodness Swift decided to listen.