Disclaimer: I don’t know what I’m doing with this column.
As I was sitting in Bergen Bagels earlier this month, eating breakfast and flipping through my September playlist thus far, I realized just how hard it’s going to be to write about music. Technically I write about music all the time. In fact, it’s kind of all I write about. But never like this. Here, I’m in complete control of everything. Here, talking about art that means something to me, I’m at what I feel to be my most vulnerable. Here, I am exposed. As terrifying as that is, it also seems like it’s going to be a lot of fun.
So thanks for clicking. Let’s figure this out together.
September has been as, if not more, jampacked than I anticipated. Between schoolwork, shows and a mountain of outside obligations, sophomore year is already piling on the workload in all aspects of my life. That constant overwhelming feeling has led to a lot of daydreaming. Lately, my mind has been taking me to the coasts of California; to the sleepy suburbs and the migraine-inducing mirage that is the Sunset Strip. The fantasy of saying goodbye to the city and flocking towards the sand has infiltrated my psyche; a reverse “Lady Bird,” if you will. It has been making its way into the music I’ve been listening to as well. Artists like Joni Mitchell and Spendtime Palace have drawn me in with their introspective musings and laid back guitars. It’s what I imagine sunshine to sound like; I can practically feel the warmth radiating from my headphones.
When I think of California, however, the band that always comes to mind first is Foxygen. Originally from Agoura Hills, they are a duo made up of Sam France and Jonathan Rado, whose music lies somewhere in the realm of indie rock, Broadway showtunes, and a psychedelic free-for-all. While all of Foxygen’s records are fantastical stories in themselves, my favorite has always been 2013’s “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic.” France and Rado pay homage to the West Coast through eclectic arrangements and cryptic lyrics, with songs covering everything from alien invasions to the Golden Gate City. Masked by the giant red triangle and illuminati eye on the album’s cover, it is the definition of wack.
“Ambassadors” is an auditory acid trip—so much so that the final track, “Oh No,” used to scare me beyond belief. I’d listen to the first two minutes of the song, drawn in by the soft flute and France’s breathy vocals, before immediately switching to something else once the middle section kicked in. The beat picks up, Sam starts to scream, and it suddenly feels as if you’re falling into a different dimension as repeated chants of “oh nooooooo” ring in your ears. Then, at the very end, the singer returns quietly, backed by a single piano, speaking of love in a Vaudevillian, childlike voice. It truly leaves one feeling like they are no longer of this earth.
I was really into Foxygen when I first moved to Brooklyn last year. I remember walking to Fort Greene Park with my guitar one sleepless night, proceeding to sit on the grass and learn their songs underneath the lonely moon. At a time when my whole world shifted entirely, there was something comforting in music that didn’t make sense. It mirrored my own mindset, which seemed to be a constant jumble of different thoughts, feelings, and anxieties. Still, much like “Oh No,” there was a hint of hope amongst the unsureness. Though the track is full of doubt and disorientation, it ends with a bit of optimism. France sings about believing in love and where that can take you. It leaves you feeling like you could be okay after all.
I’m still not sure what brought this song back to me this month. Perhaps it was timing, or solely nostalgic purposes. As I settled back into the life I’ve made in New York, however, feeling much more at ease, “Oh No” felt like connecting with an old peer. The song felt like a person I was familiar with, never really that close to, but hoped to be so one day. One night, I forced myself to listen to it all the way through. It is still a five minute track that is ultimately what you decide it to be. The middle section still makes something inside me curl up, but it isn’t as menacing as I remember. When I listen now, I see both my past and present self, a year or so apart. They are still the same person, or parts of the same person.
They are still both confusing to me, much like the words that Foxygen puts into the world. But it is nice knowing they are there.