"PSYCHEDELIC" is a word that gets bandied around with far too much ease these days. Anything with some fuzz guitar and tape delay gets the label slapped on it. But a single listen to Foxygen's Take the Kids Off Broadway—a seven-track zoetrope of fractured pop, red-eyed garage rock, and big-top whimsy—and "psychedelic" is the only adequate word for it. Broadway is redolent of the very best British psych, from the Small Faces' Ogden's Nut Gone Flake to Odessey and Oracle-era Zombies; from the Pretty Things' masterwork S.F. Sorrow to the trippy flashback of David Bowie's "The Bewlay Brothers." It's a kitchen-sink approach to music making, when any and every idea is made to fit. Of course, none of this would be worth mentioning if Take the Kids Off Broadway weren't wonderful.
Foxygen isn't British. It's two kids from Southern California, although singer Sam France is currently based in Olympia and guitarist Jonathan Rado lives in New York. France and Rado started making music together when they were 14, home-recording hours upon hours of music throughout their adolescence. As the two followed their creative impulses and made music to crack each other up, they gave themselves the perfect, if unconventional, education on songwriting and production.
"We don't sound anything like Can, but I was reading a lot about how Can did their music: They'd just jam for a long time and then cut it up and piece these things together," says Rado. "And that's how we learned to make music, too, in that weird kind of almost backward way of doing things."
One night one of their heroes, Oregon songwriter/producer Richard Swift, played a show in New York. Afterward Rado and France slapped into Swift's hands a CD-R of Take the Kids Off Broadway, which they had just finished recording earlier that day—they'd even named a song after him. A few months later Foxygen were at Swift's National Freedom home studio in Cottage Grove, Oregon, recording the nine songs that became We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic.
"We drove up from LA, and we stayed in his friend's cabin just down the street from him," says Rado. "Every day we'd get up at 11 am and we'd go over to his house and listen to some music or watch some videos. And then we'd start recording. We'd record until, like, 2 am and then go to bed."
The result is equally as good as Take the Kids Off Broadway, if a bit more clear-eyed. The focused sessions cut down on some of Foxygen's tendency to sprawl out on tape, and Swift's drumming injects a soulful groove into Rado and France's top-notch songwriting. "No Destruction" is a barroom stroll with LSD tracers, like the Stones' Sticky Fingers and Between the Buttons sharing the same record grooves. "Oh Yeah" is a summertime love-in taking place on a light-up disco floor; "San Francisco" is the kind of baroque classic that one would think only the Left Banke could manage.
Done with lesser ability—or a sense of over-reverence—it's true that Foxygen could be dismissed as mere retro posturing. But their released recordings thus far, aside from being great listens, have a sense of timelessness and youthfulness, of past and future winking at each other. There's more to come from France and Rado, although they have a substantial back catalog that they're deciding what to do with.
"We've made so many albums," Rado says, "and we're trying to figure out a way to get them out into the world. It's pretty confusing stuff; it sounds nothing like us now. We're prepubescent, and there's a lot of rapping, and weird slide guitar—it sounds like Beck at times. It would be confusing to put it out as a new Foxygen album; people would be like, 'What the fuck?' But it is cool, and interesting; if you like Foxygen, there's a gold mine of things that exist. For example, we have this album we made when we were 15 called Jurassic Explosion Philippic, and it's 35 tracks, and we're trying to find a way to put that out of vinyl or something. But we're trying not to confuse the world."