With their ambitious combination of orchestral and synthetic timbres, along with their wonderful doctoring of simple harmonic structures, Foxygen creates a worthwhile sophisticated pop album that should help grow their name and their subsection of pop.
Melody is often is most difficult musical element to cultivate when working towards sophistication. The level of sophistication that Foxygen bring to this album is not overwhelming, but certainly enough to capture interest. It was also perhaps just enough to make melodic intrigue a bit more difficult to obtain than it needed to be. In general, the melodies were very present and recognizable. No amazing hooks or moments of epiphanies, but they complimented the textures and the moods well. There was no one song that had any exceptionally deteriorating or boring sections. The melodies were rather smooth and connected for such an experimental work, which I appreciated. Overall, what the prominent lines in the texture missed is a heavy dose of excitement and drive. No line really held its own weight, and they wouldn’t be considered the main factor that pulls the listener in, which is a bit unfortunate. The low register that the melodies were most always in prevented them from soaring to a new height and reaching more intriguing levels. The lines had better power when they came off as being simple and easygoing rather than trying to completely emphasize mood and atmosphere. The more successful songs in this regard were “Avalon” and “Rise Up”. Foxygen’s simplicity was key throughout this whole album, and it’s ultimately what made Hang stand out as being a well-crafted work that didn’t need to be anything more than it was. It wasn’t always present in the melodies, though, but this was certainly the most difficult element to add fulfillment to while maintaining their integrity. I think Foxygen did pretty well with this balance.
Talking about simplicity, the harmony got the bulk of it, and it was delightful. In the midst of a sophisticated sound were very down-to-earth and relatable harmonic progressions that still found ways to excite and surprise the listener. Foxygen have a wonderful grasp on easy harmony, and they showcase that talent well on this album. Listeners love to hear manipulations on something familiar, and the ever-changing use of the I, IV, and V harmonic pillars worked incredibly well. They were able to provide so much energy and tenacity with basic two or three chord structures. The songs “On Lankershim”, “America”, and “Rise Up” were exceptionally good examples, with “Avalon” being the best of them all. The constantly changing rhythms and tempos were also well-executed and helped give shape to the form of each song. This album desperately needed some sort of excitement to come from somewhere, and the harmonic structures more than certainly provided it. Perhaps the next step for Foxygen is to include a bit more mode mixture and modulations to really spice things up.
An orchestra backing up a single voice in a pop setting? Something seems fishy about that. Luckily, Foxygen thrived with it. This was an audacious experiment that ended up being a true success through strong implications of funk and groove. The only issue I had with the timbre was that the instrumentation never really seemed to change from song to song. There were different featured instruments, but there was never a huge change in overall instrumental involvement. The instrumentation itself, though, totally nailed the right amount of sophistication and gravity that this album went for. There were always new ways found in which to combine the soloist with the background. The backup vocals that came in throughout were especially fun and interesting, as well as helpful in bringing out the chorus. “On Lankershim” has perhaps the most beautiful sound, with great piano dominance, nice added vocals, and a saxophone dancing around to liven up the pallet. In general, the overly clarified and plain lyrics were a bit of a letdown and slightly detracted from the experience. However, timbre was by far the element that underwent the most risk, and it paid off with providing the foundation for a wonderfully expressive album.
Hang is Foxygen’s fourth studio album, and the general consensus is that it’s their best one yet. The duo have really outdone themselves with this ambitious, theatrical work that combines the simple with the bombastic in a neat way. They are still quite new and have a ways to go in their career, but Hang should help to accelerate their rise to popularity. Anyone enthusiastic about new music should give it a listen, because it does a great job at portraying the progression of sophisticated pop that is taking place today. Perhaps only those enthusiastic enough will listen, but any musician can appreciate the musical ambition here, and this work may continue to inspire those in the popular world seeking sophistication down the road.
Final Score: 137/180