My relationship with the Foxygen duo has been about as stable and happy as Rimbaud and Verlaine’s. There’s been times I’ve wanted to kill them. On the surface, they have absolutely everything I look for in a band: Early 70s Jagger swagger, petulant heartache, an adverse relationship with the “indie” industry machine and press, interesting hair and outfits, and hooks on hooks on hooks on hooks. These are the types of songwriters where the verses are hooks, the bridges too, to the point where many of the songs don’t even need a chorus. So in other words, my favorite types of songs.
So why are they so frustrating? I’ve faithfully bumped each of their four records on the day of release, and never listened to them again. First, it always seemed like they were trying to pack nine different songs into the space of six minutes. All nine of the songs might be good, but there’s only a few seconds of them before jumping to the next idea. It’s like an American child without their Ritalin. Second, there was a whole lot of cloying going on with those records, the type of winking pastiche performed by early 20-somethings that they will one day look back on and wince. “Hey, we’re copying ‘Under The Boardwalk’ here guys, trippy huh?” Moments like this made me want to pull a Verlaine In Belgium on these twerps. They’re obviously at the genius level, so why resort to annoying hi-jinks when they clearly didn’t have to?
And then this song came along. The first track off their awesomely named album coming out in March, Seeing Other People, contains absolutely no hyperactive genre jumping just for kicks, nor does it contain a single hint of cutesy wink-wink “hey look what we did here with the doo-wop break” nonsense. “Livin’ A Lie” is a glorious slice of Black & Blue balladry that sticks firmly to its own script, and that script calls for a lush, serrated-edge sweep of equal parts heartbreak and swagger. It’s wonderful. It’s what Verlaine must have felt like when he beheld Rimbaud’s A Season In Hell. When he finally put that pistol down for good.
There’s a whole lot of flexin’ going on on this track, and this instantly makes it a complete anomaly in today’s “We’re so polite and nice! Have a vanilla latte with us! We like cats!” pining-for-likes white indie band culture. “I’m flying in the air, I made it to the Hollywood Hills” Sam France proudly puts out there…and why not? Achieving relative fame and success on the back of underproduced and decidedly strange music really is something to boast about, so smoke em if you got em, Sam. “I’m trying to get on your vibe, but now you’re name dropping me all the time”. This is the type of “She only loves me because I’m semi-famous” sentiment one hears in rap music these days, and it’s exciting to hear it in the context of a blue eyed soul track released on a high level indie label aiming straight for the Whole Foods sound system soundtrack.
Another interesting angle to this track is that while France repeatedly laments how much he doesn’t care (“You know I don’t really care for it, yeah you know that I don’t really care about it”) he obviously cares very deeply about the song’s subject, to the point where he’s written an entire song (or perhaps an entire album) about it, and it’s by far the most personal and hurt-sounding thing the Foxygens have ever put down on wax. There’s a whole lot of pain/longing going on here, a real sense of empathy bleeding through even the harshest disses.
There’s only one thing that I ask of you:
Tell me the truth when I ask how it feels
How does it feel to be living a lie?
And you know you never cared about no one, yeah
How does it feel to be living a lie?
One more time
Sam really wants to know how it feels to be living that lie, to the point where it reaches the type of obsession level that makes for the most effective class of ballads.
Now you’re going all over the globe
And you’re ripping off my act and my show
Um, not to get all “indie gossip girl” here but, like, who exactly is he singing about? At first it sounded like a typical ex GF drama, but now it’s a band, or bands, out there ripping off the Foxygen stage show.
You come up to me at the show
And you even stole my fuckin clothes
This song couldn’t be better if it tried, gliding along on Jonathan Rado’s smooth af keys, a lush, glistening landslide heading straight for the ocean, taking out bands and scenes and exes along the way. This is stark, devastating art in the face of brand culture, and it’s a marvel to behold.
With all God’s gifts laid out to ruin
And now you thinking ’bout killin someone
Well, I’m not thinking ’bout it anymore, Sam and Jonathan, because this is the best thing you’ve ever written and easily the song of the young year.