Foxing's most ambitious work yet.
Foxing's third LP, 'Nearer My God', intentionally pulls its name from the composition played by the on-board brass band of the Titanic as it sank in 1915 - ‘Nearer My God To Thee’. The band's new creation was further inspired by the 1980 doomsday scenario video that CNN founder Ted Turner would have his media empire broadcast come the end of the world; a brass band also playing 'Nearer My God To Thee'. Regardless of how that end may one day have arrived at our doorstep, it's an announcement of the end. And a soundtrack to the end is what this new Foxing record was meant, or at least originally written as. (I shouldn't have to explain the correlation between the apocalypse and the four horses pictured on this album's cover).
'Nearer My God' is a score to not just the possible end of Foxing themselves, but to the shadow of death that seemingly always hangs over our world. Yet the world hasn't ended; earth and humanity are still here. And Foxing - despite their past financial struggles and thoughts of disbanding - are still here too, come hell or high water. Which I would say is the real message of the hurt lyricism, eclectic styles and creative sounds feverishly expressed on 'Nearer My God': "keep calm and carry on". Even when you might not want to.
Co-produced by guitarist/co-songwriter, Eric Hudson, as well as ex-Death Cab For Cutie guitarist, Chris Walla (whose influence is clear), the ambition of Foxing's latest is damned high. Dazzlingly high, at times. Shrouded in fluttering, darkened ambience and borrowing influences from the execution of film scores, this really is Foxing's 'OK Computer' moment. Not because it's going to be a top-ten-album-of-all-time release or because it sounds exactly like Radiohead did at the time. Rather, this 12-track effort shows what this Missouri act can really sound like with no limits placed upon their minds and art; all preconceived notions and expectations of genre burnt alive at the heretical stake. What many knew of Foxing from 2013's 'The Albatross' and 2015's 'Dealer' do remain here in parts, but this new album is less rudimentary and very different in intent.
For as all recent interviews with Foxing spell out, the group are no longer content to be fatigued post-rock/indie/emo song-crafters with underground acclaim yet no success beyond their niche. They wanna be bigger, goddamnit! ‘Nearer My God’ is Foxing openly aiming for greatness, success and wider audiences. And honestly, fair enough. The quartet wants to make this a livable career and their past two albums just weren't paying the bills. Creating heavy emotional tolls on the members alongside costly matters of stolen gear and van accidents.
Yet that's what so interesting about 'Nearer My God' is that while it's a unique, cinematic and challenging album, it's not a mainstream, chart-topping rock or pop record either. So maybe don't expect to hear this material on regular Triple J or BBC Radio 1 rotation. Every single piece here ebbs and flows between so many different colours, ideas and sonic places that it's sometimes overwhelming. Exciting, inspired, but somewhat over-bearing all the same. Though I have a hunch that that's Foxing's entire point: that these songs are rarely meant to be singular.
While most songs see Foxing flexing their experimental muscles - bridging alternative-rock, electro, ambient, atmospheric post-rock, super-charged emo, and delicate indie in the span of mere minutes - this LP's brilliant titular cut is actually the most "straightforward" piece. 'Nearer My God' itself is a heart-aching call to be loved or just even wanted by someone else; a crippling moment of vulnerability from Foxing about how their art is viewed and consumed by others. It's a soaring yet gloomy rock song backed-up by simple bass lines, effective chord progressions, swelling electronics, big guitar strums, and an ear-worming chorus. (This title track was also recorded and released in Japanese, French, Spanish, and German, alongside its English sung version; working perfectly in each language too). If there's a "hit" here, then this is it! Yet this album's eponymous entry is more the exception than the overall rule.
The falsetto vocals, bleeping electronics, key change, and static piano chords of dynamic opener 'Grand Paradise' surge into a driving rock-opera by the end. Really setting the pace for what so many of these songs attempt in format and sound. This begets the grey-scale timbres, moving guitar chords and R&B elements of the beautiful, hurt-feigned and self-hating 'Slapstick' just one song later. This is a touching track that shifts into the heavily-emotive raptures of earlier Foxing. It's good to know that some things never change, honestly. Elsewhere, 'Lich Prince' is a prime example of how Foxing takes small, minimal and intimate embers and bolster them into a large, loud and multi-tiered roaring fires. All without losing any of their much-loved intimacy and lyrical beauty in the process.
The nine-minute abstract epic of 'Five Cups' shifts from explosive post-rock heights, electronic ambient lows, rising and uplifting trumpets during the outro, and fragile soundscape sections in-between. It's great, if a hefty and slightly bloated listen. IDM moulds over post-hardcore on 'Gameshark', which starts out like a more experimental Everything Everything; screaming high-register vocals, art-pop undertones and all. Right before it becomes this chaotic, Brand New rock-drama minus the creepy, rapey subtext of Jesse Lacey. Then, the Rachmaninoff-esque ball-room strings on the dreamy, bangin' 'Heartbeats' merge with swirling vocal harmonies, house rhythms, shimmery keys, and atmospheric guitar lines. Trust me, it's as bizarre, as interesting, and as fucking great as it sounds!
There are even some goddamn bagpipes on the festival-sized emo-rock anthem of ‘Bastardizer’, of all things. A Scottish flourish and heat that at one point underpins a hearty drawl of a battle-cry from passionate frontman Conor Murphy, expressing: "you think I must not remember, but I do". The clicking and tom-heavy percussion loops and hypnotic bass lines of my personal favourite, 'Won't Drown', propel along a spine-chilling piece about personal truth and pushing past deceit. The key lines of "But they don't want you to know that/Bravery won't drown/So you keep the water running" are telling of how sinister yet bleakly futile Foxing's narrative can get.
With so much going and so much to unpack with these, I don't feel that the band is committing self-sabotage by throwing so many ideas at the proverbial wall and hoping something sticks. Though there are the odd dud here, like the ill-advised rockabilly of 'Crown Candy'). Conor Murphy's penchant for falsetto runs sometimes works real wonders ('Lich Prince', 'Grand Paradise', as just a couple examples). Yet at other points, it doesn't fit and it kinda gets in the way. (See: 'Trapped In Dilliard's', and the very end of 'Grand Paradise'').
Saving one of the better tracks for last, though the sci-fi synths and racing nature of closer 'Lambert' scores what feels like a homeward mad-dash; a race against the clock to get back to safety. It also proves instrumentally, tonally and vocally that there's still plenty of drive and life left within Foxing to continue making such fantastic works; no matter where the band's own headspace may guide them. While not everything about this new record works, I truly hope to never see this stellar band disappear into the ether anytime soon. Especially not after dropping such engaging records as 'Nearer My God'. For Foxing are the instruments of their own doom and salvation, and this record proves they can still save so much.
'Nearer My God' is a wondrous, eclectic, insightful yet also a rather strange record. Pre-existing fans will adore it and be open-minded about it, no doubt. But fresh ears and newcomers to Foxing may be confused or put-off by the scope and variance of it. As it's like 12 different bands putting forward 12 different pieces to make a full-length album. I personally love that approach, but the mass-markets that the group are aiming for may not be as warm, as kind, or as understanding. Yet singles like ‘Slapstick’ and the glorious title track should hopefully stampede into alternative Spotify playlists furiously this year. However, it's hard to imagine many of these songs catapulting Foxing right up into the charts or scoring them mass T.V. or movie syndication deals. Time will really tell how well 'Nearer My God' seeps into better success or even 'masterpiece' territory. As it stands during its initial release period, this is a well-crafted and dynamic experience from a talented band who is, quite clearly, capable of so much.
'Nearer My God' is out now via Cooking Vinyl Australia & Triple Crown Records!