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Foxygen’s Sam France and Jonathan Rado (Angel Ceballos)
Foxygen’s Sam France and Jonathan Rado (Angel Ceballos)

DISC OF THE WEEK

Foxygen make fine ambassadors of peace and magic Add to ...

  • Title We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
  • Artist Foxygen
  • Rating 3/4

When the hype first began burbling for the upstart Californians with a cheeky moniker, I tweeted that “with a name like Foxygen, they’d better be good.”

They are.

When I first began listening to Foxygen, on its promising 2012 debut EP Take The Kids Off Broadway and now on the fully realized long-player, I thought that if these two time-travellers were going to loot lysergic-era Rolling Stones, they’d better outdo Their Satanic Majesties Request.

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They do.

And I guess I think if these two marmalade sky-divers were audacious enough to name their album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, they’d better be just that.

Mission accomplished; the representation is fine.

What’s in the water of Agoura Hills, Calif., where singer Sam France and instrumentalist Jonathan Rado base themselves, is an open guess.

No one is going to take the key to a certain California city away from the late Scott McKenzie, who sang gentle and hippy-high about blooming hair accessories and a place where people were in motion. But Foxygen’s easygoing San Francisco wears Lennon granny glasses and mellows any stressful situation. Somewhat similar to Tony Bennett, Foxygen’s France left his love in San Francisco; unlike Bennett, France has a soothing vocal counterpoint assuring him, “that’s okay, I was bored anyway.”

The shape-shifting Shuggie is a slinky homage to the California soulster and afro aficionado from the seventies, Shuggie Otis, with bold intrusions of Godspell-style freakouts and softer string-and-flute moments.

In the Darkness imagines Mick Jagger strolling blissfully with George Martin along Penny Lane.

No Destruction has druggier Leonard Cohen likenesses, or maybe Velvet Underground, with some Lou Reed sass: “There’s no need to be an asshole / you’re not in Brooklyn any more.” Throw in a little Dylan-y harmonica, too, why not?

So, sure, Foxygen is derivative. But cleverly, with a wink. Life is free and grand on the psychedelic playground, where the swings are set extra high – nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about. Peace? Magic? No one’s had their fill of those things yet.

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HIP HOP

  • LONG.LIVE.A$AP
  • A$AP Rocky
  • Polo Grounds/RCA

“I got some tissues for your issues – tell ’em, blow this.” At last, a rapper spitting ’bout blunts and broads, and putting the boots to sucker MCs whining the one-per-center blues. Harlem’s A$AP Rocky won attention at first with his mixtape Live-LoveA$AP, revealing a lyrically dexterous New York rapper showing love for southern hip hop. His debut album’s grim, muddy beats would be off-putting if they weren’t complemented by Rocky’s strangely charismatic brand of fatalism. “I thought I’d probably die in prison,” he drawls, trying to sound blasé about his anger and desperation, and failing. Compared to this, most rap of the last decade sounds like a bunch of Swiss bankers reading a wine list out loud. – Dave Morris

DANCE

  • Elements of Light
  • Pantha Du Prince and The Bell Laboratory
  • Rough Trade

Dance music for people who don’t like dance music: Is it a good thing? Critics praised Hendrik Weber (a.k.a. Pantha Du Prince) for the lush soundscapes and sonic variation that made Weber’s 2010 album Black Noise stand out. His latest, a collaboration with several percussionists in Norway, almost seems like blowing a raspberry in the face of such acclaim; the principal sound on the record is of a carillon, an assembly of bells co-ordinated by a central player. To be fair, the bells and other percussion instruments here do sound magnificent. But minimalism depends on sparseness and repetition for its power, and Weber’s shifting textures and melodies dilute that effect. The result is pleasant background music, but little more. – D.M.

CLASSICAL

  • François Devienne: Six Trios op. 17 for bassoon, violin and cello
  • Mathieu Lussier, bassoon; Pascale Giguère, violin; Benoît Loiselle, cello
  • Atma Classique

There is perhaps nothing more challenging for a performer than playing mediocre music. François Devienne’s unprepossessing Op. 17 Trios, composed in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, are not in any way profound, nor are they ingeniously crafted, but bassoonist Mathieu Lussier and company seem to be having so much fun playing them that we soon forget to count the clichés as they go past – or maybe we simply realize how engaging clichés can be when given their due charm. For the bassoonist, the fast movements demand a certain amount of virtuosity, but there’s not a whiff of earnestness to Lussier’s rippling scales and there’s always a smile at the heart of his sound. Devienne didn’t bother with a true slow movement, but the ensemble suavely acknowledges what sentimental possibilities there are. – Elissa Poole

 

JAZZ/R&B

  • José James
  • No Beginning No End
  • Blue Note

A jazz singer with deep roots in hip-hop and R&B, James’s voice carries a bluesy edge that makes him seem soulful even when singing standards (as on 2010’s For All We Know). This time, he’s deep in the groove, working with pianist Robert Glasper and bassist Pino Palladino to drape some Sly Stone funk over Trouble or lend a dub-inflected feel to the sexy It’s All Over (Your Body). His taste in rhythm is admirably eclectic, stretching from the pan-African pulse of Sword + Gun to the slow, spooky Bird of Space, but it’s the passion beneath his laid-back phrasing that truly makes these songs sizzle. – J.D. Considine

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