So here we have the Foxygen album, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, the nine-song sophomore effort from the unfortunately named Los Angeles duo. It’s received far-reaching, effusive praise from publications both large and small, but been criticized as derivative as well. The truth of the album undoubtedly lies somewhere in between.
Sonically, We Are the 21st Century recalls the better parts of psych-pop from The 1960’s; the pair is adept at finding what has worked in the vast back catalog of vintage rock and recreating it here. The obvious comparison (and the one often utilized in reviews) is to The Rolling Stones, but there are parts of We Are the 21st Century that recall Elvis Presley as much as they do Jagger & Co. (the chorus of “On Blue Mountain” is “Suspicious Minds”), and there’s an equal amount that’s cribbed from The Beatles, or from Van Morrison’s repetitive phrasing. Foxygen know their influences, and they wear them not just on their sleeves, but on their legs and chests and backs as well.
To that end, We Are the 21st Century is an enjoyable album. It’s eminently listenable, and making it through the entirety of its thirty-seven minute running time without something left over to roll around in your head is nearly impossible. But that’s a superficial path to take, and for a band that so obviously wants to pay homage to their predecessors, a deeper listen is in order. And once you’ve peeled back the outer, sonic layers of We Are the 21st Century, the pair leaves much to be desired.
Here’s the thing I’ve always thought about the counterculture of the 1960’s: it ran in response to some sort of oppression, whether of society at large, or of civil rights, or of an unjust war, or, boringly, of one’s parents. Once it was adopted into the mainstream, it became misunderstood and diluted, and those of us who came after its effects miss its larger point.
That’s the situation the members of Foxygen find themselves in; they aspire to an ideal that has been packaged for wider consumption, and it’s obvious in their lyrics. Thoughts that “you can rearrange your mind, if it makes you feel fine” come off as bland and trite precisely because we’ve heard it repeated so often. It’s no longer a revolutionary thought; it’s commonplace. Rambling about consciousness or love aren’t inspiring, just yawn inducing.
In the end, Foxygen feel like they’ve co-opted their favorite sections of their parents’ record collections and pushed them haphazardly together to make a tribute album to all their musical heroes. And though there are euphoric moments to be had (like the 2:55 mark of the title track where it explodes into hand-claps and crunching guitars), the pair doesn’t – or possibly can’t – sustain that feeling over the course of the album. In that sense, Foxygen ends up presenting the music of The Sixties without the meaning behind it, and that ultimately makes We Are the 21st Century insincere.