Album Review: Foxygen - Take The Kids Off Broadway

On July 3rd 2018, following an undisclosed illness, the incredibly prolific indie artist Richard Swift tragically passed away. Swift has a substantial solo catalogue and has worked with a myriad of beloved musicians – such as The Black Keys and The Shins – so he will be sorely missed by innumerable music fans. For the most part, I’m not very familiar with Swift’s work. However, I have one very significant connection to him: he produced Foxygen’s Take The Kids Off Broadway, one of my favourite albums of all time.

I first heard Foxygen’s debut full-length album – released in 2012 – mostly by chance. After getting into bands like Tame Impala and Pond, I searched Wikipedia for more modern psych-rock bands to listen to and happened to settle on Foxygen. If you’re aware of Foxygen, it’s likely because of their follow-up album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic. It’s a fantastic record that rightly received critical acclaim for its skilful blend of classic rock influences. However – as far as I’m concerned – it was a downgrade from Take The Kids Off Broadway. Foxygen intentionally simplified the songwriting so their live band could learn the songs more easily, resulting in solid psych-pop tunes but a less intriguing listen overall.

Take The Kids Off Broadway is often labelled as an EP but it lasts a decent 36 minutes, four minutes longer than Foxygen’s latest album Hang. What’s remarkable about this album is how much it fits into that 36 minutes. Sam France and Jonathan Rado spliced together numerous jam sessions to construct the album, not unlike the editing technique of krautrock legends Can. However, whilst Can’s jams resulted in lengthy, hypnotic epics, Foxygen use this method to cram as many ideas into as little time as possible. Take The Kids Off Broadway only spans seven tracks, but there’s enough content here to fill a double album.

Each track is constantly evolving from one fascinating sound to another. Opening track Abandon My Toys’ ominous bassline creeps through an eerie psychedelic landscape, explodes into a horn-propelled rapture then tumbles back into creepy electronica. In just the first two minutes. Make it Known and the title track are particularly packed, speeding through countless diverse melodies that make the most of their brevity by being insanely memorable. Most impressively, the album never feels directionless or confused. Each progression happens naturally, resulting in mini prog rock suites that come together with surprising cohesion.

Most impressively, the album never feels directionless or confused. Each progression happens naturally, resulting in mini prog rock suites that come together with surprising cohesion.
– Nathan Brooks

With so much going on, it’s no surprise Take The Kids Off Broadway covers so much musical ground. France and Rado have stuffed the record with heaps of instruments to explore heaps of genres. Psychedelia, glam, baroque, blues and even jazz elements make appearances. The inspirations are just as extensive. The Velvet Underground’s influence is particularly prevalent on the 10 minute Teenage Alien Blues, the one time the album sprawls (rather than compresses) into an angsty, pulsating fuzz-fest. France’s passionate vocals (that have garnered justified comparisons to Mick Jagger) guide much of the album through its various moods and atmospheres. On Why Did I Get Married?, France’s vocals build serious tension, until a violent guitar solo releases it in heavily distorted splendour.

As the title suggests, much of Take The Kids Off Broadway’s songwriting takes cues from musical theatre. Hang had a similar approach, but took it up a notch with a 40-piece orchestra and Foxygen’s own lavish production, arguably resulting in overblown bombast. This is where Swift comes in. In contrast to Hang, his production is respectably lo-fi, maintaining a gritty edge that stops the album toppling into indulgent cheesiness. Most importantly, he got Foxygen their record deal with Jagjaguwar. In return, the band dedicated the album’s final track to Swift. Middle School Dance (Song For Richard Swift) is an absolute whirlwind. It encapsulates the album’s themes and eclecticism into one 4-minute magnum opus, complete with Elton John-esque backing vocals, a life affirming guitar solo and a delightful foray into funk rock.

This album may not be for everyone. What sounds entrancing to me may just sound messy, unrefined and unfocused to others. However, I truly believe something special was achieved on Take The Kids Off Broadway. There’s always a unique energy on a band’s first album, as they get out all the ideas they’ve been dying to release. However, even by debut standards, Foxygen filled this record to the brim and then some. Crucially, these ideas are really good and they all come together in a way that has captivated me from the moment I first heard them – a moment that may never have happened without Richard Swift.