Foxing Mess With Their Established Formula on "Nearer My God" (Album Review)
Reading interviews with the band members of Foxing makes it clear that the creation of Nearer My God was a tumultuous process. Among the usual difficulties concerning the translation of their exciting live show into an equally satisfying album, they clashed with each other creatively, and wondered about the future of the band as a whole. Luckily, Foxing's struggle has payed off entirely. The band has produced perhaps their most ambitious album, blending different musical styles into the emo-alternative groove they have already mastered. They've created an album that is touching, exciting, and more-listenable than anything they have produced up to this point.
Its clear from the very first second of the album that Foxing is trying something new. Opener "Grand Paradise" utilizes elements not previously used in Foxing records, including a drum machine track and recurring background glitches. These production tricks make their way throughout the entire album, creating an atmosphere more energetic than either Dealer or The Albatross. From the very start of the album, Nearer My God sets itself apart stylistically. Combined with a more layered production, Conor Murphy's vocals are often layered on top of each other to create dissonant harmonies or gang vocals not unlike those used by bands like Passion Pit and Bon Iver. The guitar work similarly strays from the laidback ambience of the previous albums, sometimes breaking into full-blown electric guitar solos or heavier rock riffs. These changes are refreshing and welcome. I am a huge Foxing fan, but it was clear that if they put out another album similar to their last two, the formula may have begun to get stale.
The use of creative backtracks, production touches and different music styles are really what make the album exciting. "Slapstick" utilizes Murphy's own pitch-shifted vocals to create a backbeat that follows through the whole song. "Heartbeats" is nearly a dance song with its fast-paced drum machine beat, and might actually be fun if the chorus didn't repeatedly state "you are not in love." "Bastardizer" uses fucking bagpipes for godsakes. To say Murphy and crew threw everything at the wall is an understatement. Few albums can go from songs like "Gameshark," a pop-alternative song that could've been ripped from a Portugal. the Man album to emo anthems like the longing, desperate title track "Nearer My God" without missing a beat. Just when you think the album is starting to lull, Foxing throws out a song like "Crown Candy," which mixes a Pixies-esque acoustic riff and vocal pattern with haunting gang vocals to great effect. The diversity of musical styles on the album keep it interesting the whole way through.
Luckily for Foxing, they have also retained enough of their old style to (hopefully) not alienate too many fans. The lyrics are still downbeat and depressing ("I want to drive with my eyes closed", or "Does anybody want me at all" are good examples). Murphy's voice is still filled with loneliness and longing, though he does manage to hit a more impressive range this time around, from high-pitched yells to low crooning. The biggest place where Nearer My God really falters is in the middle, where it comes to nearly a dead stop with "Five Cups." Especially following what amounts to an incredible opening 5-song salvo, a slow song that has absolutely no business being 9 minutes long is not a good way to break up the album. Still, "Five Cups" first five minutes is a catchy, if emotionally exhausting, ride before it launches into 4 more self indulgent minutes of spacey instrumental tracks and sparse vocals.
Nearer My God is a triumph for Foxing, allowing experimentation to take the forefront without abandoning what makes them Foxing to begin with. Until this album, I found it hard to revisit previous Foxing records in their entirety because of how unhappy and slow-paced they could be. I was a much bigger fan of Conor Murphy's side-project Smidley. But Nearer My God appears to have changed that, and is a strong contender for one of the most creative albums of the year thus far.