Aside from the leisurely “No Destruction,” a chance meeting between Blonde on Blonde and Pavement’s “Range Life” that’s more successful than it has any right to be, Foxygen’s songs tend to be sardonic deconstructions of psychedelic tropes. Unfortunately, they often suffer from a sub-Ariel Pink level of insight.
White Fence and even the unsung paisley fairies Velvet Davenport have already peered into these lysergic corridors and emerged with music that’s funnier, more personal and less interested in taking easy jabs at the past. Foxygen’s occasional melody may stick, but their overall essence of hippy pastiche filtered through a smirking, faux-‘90s slacker perspective is typically delivered with all the nuance of a junior high student fleshing out a ‘60s-themed Tumblr.
It’s a welcome change than that, left to his own lo-fi devices, founding Foxygen member Jonathan Rado is apparently intent on using totemic pop forms to expose and accentuate the limits of his own voice, the crudeness of his recording techniques and the petty self-consciousness of his lyrical concerns. Rado’s true talent might be an ability to wrestle with a reverence for and ironic distance from his source material, yet somehow emerge with the sort of winningly selflacerating music that makes up the bulk of Law and Order, his solo debut.
His intentions become almost painfully clear with “Looking 4 a Girl Like U” and “I Wanna Feel It Now!!!,” which drag classic soul songcraft through the scum and muck of Beck’s Golden Feelings and early Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Pushing his voice to what could be its actual breaking point, Rado leaves his fey psych wheelhouse behind for more violent and visceral territory. While the Foxygen co-captain does settle into a more familiar, whimsical mindset for much of Law and Order, his warmer material only draws his neurotic lyrics into sharper focus. Witness as deceptively buoyant lead single “Faces,” sun-dappled with the hues of vintage San Franciscan AM pop hymns, develops into a sly, blackly comic call-to-arms against eye contact and human connection.
Similarly, “Hand In Mine,” a straight up Nancy & Lee rip, seems sweet until the passive aggressive depth of the barbs Rado trades with duet partner Jaclyn Cohen becomes clear. But indicative of Law and Order as a whole, Rado isn’t trying to toy with the legacy of Hazlewood or any other consecrated rock figure; instead, he’s borrowing from classics while expressing an alienation that couldn’t be more contemporary.
Rado even nicks a title and chorus lyric from schlock standard “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” for an otherwise original composition – oddly, one that’s in the ballpark of Leonard Cohen adopting a slowcore band’s self-esteem and sense of rhythm. The song continues an album-long sense of tension between creative liberation and dour introspection, a thread that reaches its apex in the closing “Pot of Gold.” In a move that could be read as Rado formally breaking (at least artistically) from the band he’s thus far made his name on, he fast-forwards his ‘60s fetishism about two decades. Assembled from the kinds of emotional cues that one might witness in an especially uplifting Patrick Swayze movie, “Pot of Gold” is a montage-ready slice of synth pop. Ironic? Highly – the last decade of underground pop has taught us that it’s hard to play this kind of thing straight (there’s even a reach-for-the-stars guitar solo that could have fit Saved By the Bell). Yet it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that Rado is using the plasticity of the format to satirize his own emerging indie rock prominence. Consider that the upwardly mobile-themed song (sample lyric: “Me and you/ We’re gonna take this city”) closes an album that couldn’t be less commercially viable.
Inoffensive as Foxygen is, it’s ultimately difficult to really care whether or not “Pot of Gold” is an impending signal of the band’s implosion. Still, the flawed but fascinating Law and Order is good enough to warrant some hope that Rado continues to wander down his own crooked solo path when he’s not too busy earning nods from mainstream media outlets with his day job.