2018-08-20T19:00:53-04:00 2018-08-20T18:13:42-04:00

Putting Art Back in Art-Rock: Foxing’s ‘Nearer My God’ is a thing of explosive beauty

We can agree beauty comes in the form of many shapes and sizes. There’s no feeling like the one where you hear a song (or an album, which is rare these days) for the first time that completely holds you emotionally hostage. You surrender as this musical exertion feels like a sense of purging for not only the band, but for yourself. To feel as one with a specific song or album becomes this poignantly gravitational pull to your inner and most exposed self. It’s an infrequent sentiment more and more these days. When it does happen and you will know when it does, it has an outcome that elicits a state of pure awakening to both your internal and external environments. Where is this headed, you ask? Well, let me introduce to you the band Foxing. If you’re tragically unacquainted with them, then you are welcome in advance.

The St. Louis post-emo quartet (Conor Murphy, Ricky Sampson, Jon Hellwig, and Eric Hudson) is not exactly the same band today then when they released 2013’s emo-revival debut The Albatross or even the brooding sophomore follow-up, Dealer, in 2015. Nearly three years later the Triple Crown Records-act released their incredibly ambitious third record, Nearer My God, on August 10th. This ambitious return is monumental in sheer scoop that clearly doesn’t fall into any single genre of music. With Stereogum, Noisey, Pitchfork, and Uproxx, to name a few, singing the praises of this band’s trajectory, Foxing is on the path of no return to those blurry days of being rescuers of modern emo. Foxing’s new record may pull from the descriptions of indie, emo, jazz, soul, art-rock, and experimental, but for a moment, let’s all think outside of labels. You don’t want to be labeled and Foxing shouldn’t be either. They are a whole different beast for 2018 and surely beyond.

Co-produced by ex-Death Cab for Cutie guitarist and full-time producer Chris Walla, Nearer My God is a striking spectacle of shape-shifting tracks filled with anxiety, eye-opening experiences, the collocation of life and death, and foresights of impending doom. For those familiar with Foxing will know that upon the first listen to opener, “Grand Paradise”, their sonic tone has been completely altered. On paper, this is a cross-appeal to fallen emo heroes Brand New and beloved Los Angeles multifaceted indie act, Local Natives. The just shy of five minutes endeavor moves in numerous directions, beginning with pulsating synth beats and claps underneath Conor Murphy’s nascent vocals. Speaking of his vocal chops, Murphy has never been more confident about being uneasy in a world with so many damn question marks. “Grand Paradise’s” transformation halfway through its duration touches upon sonic ambiguity that will have the listener feeling both breathless and invigorated simultaneously.

Back in June, we received our first taste of Foxing’s renewed aural inclinations in the form of “Slapstick.” This may be the subtlest track off Nearer My God. However, with the underpinnings of melodic rock and Murphy’s beautifully aching vocals widening to great lengths, it’s clear why this grounded composition was picked as the introduction for Nearer My God. Smooth and mellow, but intermittently rapturous and disruptive, “Slapstick” serves as the cornerstone for the band’s third compilation. “Lich Prince” goes off the rails in the best possible way. With the lyrics, “I just want real love for you... For you…I feel like a houseplant”, it may come across a bit histrionic. With the song’s sonic palette propelled by raucous guitars, rowdy drums, and ornate arrangements, Foxing is indeed ready for the main stage (an arena stage, that is).

Remember when I said Foxing goes full-blown experimental here? That can be heard in “Gameshark” a “what the f***” departure from the rest of the album. Wild and outside their comfort zone, “Gameshark” is the most “mainstream” track that exemplifies the echoes of funky, psychedelic rock in a complete and utter frenzy. Be prepared for a crazy and disorderly journey to the land of the unknown. The next tune after “Gameshark” is the title track and it brings you back to level ground. We’re here again with Foxing doing their emotive thing and it’s a spiritual exercise to say the very least. “Nearer My God” digs deeper than anything before it.

“I want it all / I’ll watch the bridges all burn / And I’ll be your dog / I’d be a darling for you / Or anyone who wants me at all / Does anybody want me at all? & ‘Cause I’d sell my soul / To be America’s pool boy / The crown centerfold” – ­“Nearer My God”

As if the compositions alone weren’t enough to hit you hard, the band’s lyricism matches right there with it. Through its emotional peaks and valleys, “Nearer My God” is a declaration to the world, letting everyone or maybe just someone know that Foxing wants to feel wanted. In the simplest of terms, this is Foxing at their most vulnerable state and it will resonate with many listeners as well.

“Five Cups” is an expedition into mysterious terrain. It’s epic in length, reaching just past nine minutes. It can be identified as a dividing point for the next batch of songs that follow. Mostly ambient and instrumental, there are whispers from Murphy that are sometimes difficult to make out. It’s kind of an unusual track that is more like an exercise or their version of abstract art found in sounds rather than visuals. Once the voyage ceases, we find ourselves entering “Heartbeats”—the standout track off Nearer My God. It’s one of the most bracing and significant pieces of work the band has put out. “Heartbeats” is a display of adaptable indie rock over the course of its four-minute running time. Swerving through beautiful tones and infectious beats, there’s a moment of sudden explosion here that will overpower all your delicate sensibilities. And for those in the midst of a tumultuous, uneven, or questionable relationship, the polarizing lyrics: You are not in love / So stop playing along, and sweeping arrangements will serve as a shockwave through and through your body.

A very close runner-up to the standout abovementioned track is “Trapped in Dillard’s”. This delicate tune is overflowing with emotion and yearning taking one on a voyage of unseen discovery. Spiritually stimulating throughout with its multi-layered arrangements, enigmatic narrative, and longing vocals, “Trapped in Dillard’s” dazzles and amazes at every shift, turn, and change in its musical course. Keep in mind, Nearer My God never ceases to surprise you track to track and there’s no difference with “Bastardizer.” This could be considered the most straightforward “indie rock” song here with a nice touch of bagpipes subtly added in the background. Lyrically the band dives into adultery and the absentee-father with Murphy singing with all this pent-up anger. The song is deeply expressive with a final minute channeling the same raw intensity of the late days of Brand New. However, despite the comparison to them or anyone else you may read about online, Foxing is clearly in a different league with Nearer My God and that needs to be recognized.

Winding down with the final three tracks, in no way does this album lose its stream, even with “Crown Candy’s” experimental sonic tones during the chorus. There’s this darkness to it before any light can even be revealed. It’s not the strongest outing but there’s a lot to grasp onto as you make it to the end. Penultimate track, “Won’t Drown” puts the record back on its proper course with one of the most eclectic indie rock songs of the year. Like many before it, there’s a stand-alone journey you take with the song. All the tracks are interconnected, of course, but it’s comforting to know you can take a portion of the story here (just one track) and find something truly beautiful that immensely stands out.

As we lead up to the finale with “Lambert” one thing is for certain, this is an album of pure survival. It will break you down, lift you up, crush your negativity, have you taking a damn hard look at yourself and just maybe, give you that extra light that’s gone a little dim in your own world. “Lambert” is a slow show, a deliberately paced odyssey of self-crisis. With the lyrics, I spent so long at the gates / Heaven won't take me in, there’s a lot here to wrestle with. There’s this crescendo that will take you by surprise like a swell in an ocean you thought was calm and untamed. The song settles back to reality in its final moments, aching with beauty as it simmers down to its minimalistic conclusion. “Lambert” and the rest of the album tackle existential elements but never hammering it down our throats or eardrums.

People always want to know what a band they’re not familiar with sounds like in comparison to other artists. I can reiterate by telling you how there are bits and pieces reminiscent of Brand New and Local Natives or how Pitchfork noted “…the band fully commits to laser-lit synth-rock that can go moonshot for moonshot with M83 and the 1975.” In the end, Foxing deserves to be recognized for all the chances and risks they take on Nearer My God. It’s a precocious album for a band associated with the realms of emo and then later post-emo. Speaking of post-emo or even post-rock, Foxing’s third album is post-every-genre-associated-with-rock. Nearer My God will test your wills, beliefs, and the path you think you’re on or want to be on. Be patient with Nearer My God, listen without distractions and with headphones. It will require your full attention from start to finish to truly take in and evaluate the ambitious strides it makes. This is the album that will change everything you think about the state of indie rock.

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