Album Review: Foxing's Nearer My God is a Defiant Statement
Being a fan of Foxing for the past few years has been a rough time for anyone with a shred of empathy. Between near-death experiences and having their entire lives literally stolen from them, the group have released two albums that were revered in some circles but criminally ignored by the wider music community. Miraculously, they’re still kicking, and of course their string of bad luck has rubbed off on them. Their latest release, Nearer My God, is very clearly the work of a band defiantly shouting back to the universe that seems hell-bent on tearing them apart. Simply naming the album Nearer My God was a bold move, given its connotations with things coming to a dramatic end.
From track one we hear a band in the midst of a dramatic transition. Moving past the anxious, post-rock inspired math-rock of their debut and the moody ambience of Dealer, ‘Grand Paradise’ kicks things off with cinematic, TV on the Radio-esque electronics and a nervy falsetto quite unlike anything we’ve heard from Conor Murphy before. From there on out, the band throw everything at the table, touring through new-wave, ambient electronic, freak folk and freakin bagpipes. Chris Walla’s production is not as over-bearing as one might expect, but he gives the album a distinctly enormous sound synonymous with his time in Death Cab for Cutie that was sometimes lost in the mix of Foxing’s previous releases.
‘Heartbeats’ is a personal favourite, mixing a beat straight from The xx playbook with a string section and one of the hardest hitting choruses of 2018 (“You are not in love, so stop playing along”). “Bastardiser” is another highlight, a softer tune with a sweeping linear structure, powerful backing vocals from Eric Hudson, and the aforementioned bagpipes lurking in the background. Perhaps the only time the band somewhat misses the mark is on ‘Gameshark’, which has so much going on it becomes messy without anything in particular to hold it together. That said, one dud out of twelve is good going, and when every other song is as good as they are here, nothing is really lost. The album ends on one its most powerful notes, with ‘Lambert’ launching things into stratospheric heights, leaving the biggest moment till last.
The ambition on this album isn’t just musical, though. Nearer My God was a much more democratic effort lyrically, and it results in some of the most enticing images the always-poetic group have put to record to date. ‘Trapped in Dilliard’s’ finds the narrator in the midst of a panic attack in a shopping mall filled with pregnant ex-girlfriends and celebrity cologne. The title track acts as both a comment on the band’s eternally precarious existence and resulting ambition, and as a relatable exploration of loneliness, insecurity and feeling underappreciated. It’s easy to imagine Murphy howling “Does anybody want me at all?” at the stars in an empty parking lot somewhere. It’s equally as easy to imagine him on stage with a huge crowd to shout the words back at him.
It might be easy for some to write off albums that wear their heart so blatantly on their sleeves like this one, and in lesser hands this kind of experiment would dramatically crash and burn. Thankfully, in the masterful hands of Foxing, it’s created one of the most impactful, exhilarating releases in recent memory. Foxing throw everything at this album, unravelling all pre-conceived expectations about them in the process. Even if the universe finally catches up with Foxing, at least they will go out with a bang, and probably an orchestra to soundtrack it.