Makeup For The Silence

The digital home of music writer Jesse Richman

Makeup For The Silence

Tag: foxy shazam

#9 Album of 2014 – Foxy Shazam – Gonzo

#9 – FOXY SHAZAM – GONZO [spotify]

(feat. track – “Tragic Thrill” [spotify])

Way back in 2010, Foxy Shazam’s self-titled album ranked as my #1 album of the year, an album I characterized as “a celebration of the gloriously-over-the-top,” combining “Queen, Meatloaf, 70’s arena rock, 50’s rock-n-roll, a smidge of 80’s synthpop and blue-eyed soul, a drip of gospel, [and ]the slimmest remnants of chaotic post-hardcore” into something “so wildly original that only the most hyperbolic statements even begin to capture its essence.”

That’s a hard thing to follow up. The band’s 2012 release, Church Of Rock and Roll, made the classic mistake of attempting to recapture the magic. The album wound up being nothing so much as a weak caricature; the sequel to the self-titled’s impossibly out-sized ambition, either failing to reach such heights or, worse, reaching them but in a way that felt clown-like, more garish than gigantic.

GONZO reverses course entirely; the band scraps all pretense of production, writes a series of songs with smaller, uglier ambitions, books studio time with infamously barebones producer recordist Steve Albini, and launches the resulting composition into the world with no warning and little fanfare. It’s an approach that ultimately felt self-defeating; and yet, nothing could be more appropriate for this little album that couldn’t. GONZO is a chronicle of being beaten up and beaten down, a product of fear and exhaustion and not a little desperation. As frontman Eric Nally revealed to me in an interview, GONZO is a concept record revolving around his father’s struggles with sanity, a struggle his father has slowly lost; for Nally’s part, it sounds as if it was written and composed by a man fearing for his own mind.

The result…isn’t great. Or rather, it is great despite the fact that It isn’t even good, at parts. And yet, those gnarls, those bits of shoddy craftsmanship, lack of care, the odd choices, the paranoia: all of them add up to a harrowing picture of a man at war with some seriously nasty demons. When the songs do work – like on the hard-charging, bass heavy rave-up “Brutal Truth” –  they hit like a hammer; when they don’t, like on the plodding “Have The Fun” and “In This Life,” they bellyflop with just as much violence. It isn’t pretty, but life doesn’t seem to pretty for Nally either, not right now. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.

Nally concluded our interview with the assertion that “there’s no way that anything could go wrong now, because we’re in charge. We’re beholden to no one. Foxy Shazam is its own thing, and I feel like we’re just… We exist. And there’s no denying that. We’re here to stay, and we’ll be here forever.” Six months later Foxy Shazam disbanded (ostensibly temporarily) without explanation.

[interview with vocalist Eric Nally]

Makeup for the Silence – Best of 2014 Mixtape

Makeup for the Silence - Best of 2014 Mixtape

It’s hard for me to believe I’ve been doing this as long as I have, and yet here we are for the fifth year in a row* with the annual Makeup For The Silence Mixtape.

The 2014 edition of my yearly mixtape feels darker, tetchier and more ruminative than last year’s compilation. Partly that’s deceptive: this year’s picks are angrier in their loudest, brightest moments, and more quiet when soft and sweet. Indeed, 2014 was my most blissful in recent memory, full of both personal joy (getting married) and professional success (my first print features in a decade), But as they say, energy flows where attention goes, and the tracks here that demand the most attention rage loudly enough to nearly eclipse the more subtle sweetness in between.

Only nearly, though. Part of the challenge of making the yearly mixtape is in the curation – there were more than 200 songs that made my running Top Tracks Of 2014 longlist**, and paring them down is some combination of making a CD-length document that actually flows as a well-sequenced album would without excluding anything absolutely essential to the year. I spend far more time than any human should working toward hitting the sweet spot each time out; hopefully, I managed it here.

The “no big radio hits” rule wasn’t really an issue this year (sorry Taylor); while I felt like 2014 was much more of a singles year than an albums year for me personally (more on that soon), it wasn’t because of anything on pop radio, which had a seriously down year compared to 2013. I feel like we’re headed toward an interesting intersection – it’s clear to me that the pop-EDM bubble has burst, and there’s definitely renewed interest in music made with traditional instruments, but nobody seems to quite know what to do with them yet (other than sample saxophones, ubiquitously). In the past that’s led to tremendously interesting and diverse years for pop music (think 90-91), but for some reason this year’s casting-about turned up little in the way of interesting experiments – at least not in the Top 40.

And yet the 23 tracks here barely tap the surface; there was tremendous breadth, if not depth, just below. This year’s mix features a pair of refugees from collapsed bands, each digging out of the rubble and starting anew in their own way; two tracks from the best band in the world you’ve never heard of; four minutes of guts-searing #emorevival; and four more of glorious, gossamer #softshread. It’s all in there, Frankensteined together into one rather dapper monster, if I do say so myself.

Enough talk. Download***, listen, enjoy.

Makeup For The Silence – Best Of 2014

  1. Free – Brent Walsh
  2. Royals (Remix) – T-Pain ft. Young Cash
  3. Tongue Talk – The Holidays
  4. Canyon Moon – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
  5. Coming Of Age – Foster the People
  6. Unconditional Love – Against Me!
  7. Queen of Hearts – Darlia
  8. Don’t Die in Yr Hometown – Antarctigo Vespucci
  9. American Beauty / American Psycho – Fall Out Boy
  10. Exclusive Coupe – MYRONE
  11. Long Night – Guster
  12. Nervous Kids – Tigers Jaw
  13. Brutal Truth – Foxy Shazam
  14. Your Deep Rest – The Hotelier
  15. Dear Diary – Darlia
  16. Giving Up – Allison Weiss
  17. I Told You So – Dazy (The Girl) ft. Derek Sanders
  18. Tear The House Up (Edit) – Herve & Zebra Katz
  19. Digital Witness – St. Vincent
  20. Eyeshadow – No Devotion
  21. Erosion – Cymbals
  22. Come Alive – Rachel Taylor
  23. XO – Roy English

click image to download

Stay tuned, The yearly Top Ten will begin in just a few days!

*you can always find the complete collection of mixes which have appeared on Makeup For The Silence, as well as all the playlists I’ve contributed to elsewhere, right over here.

**if you’d like to get a headstart on 2015, feel free to follow my running Top Tracks Of 2015 So Far playlist on Spotify. It’s barren right now but that won’t last long.

***just like the past two years, there’s a Spotify version of 2014’s mix available, but also like those years, there are a handful of tracks on the mix which aren’t currently available on the service. I love Spotify’s convenience, but I recommend downloading if you want the real deal – otherwise, you miss out on a few great songs, and also the sequencing. If you’re a Spotify user, it’s easy to import downloaded files into Spotify, I promise.

#1 Album Of 2010 – FOXY SHAZAM – FOXY SHAZAM

(feat. track – “Intro / Bombs Away”)

I had a really tough time figuring out how to write about Foxy Shazam.  I know that nothing I say below is going to adequately describe them, their music, the “Foxy Shazam” album, their essence.  The only real way to convey any of what I’m going to attempt to explain below is to make you listen to the album yourself.  The whole thing, preferably.  Of course, I can’t do that.  But please, I beg you, take the time to do so.  I don’t ask much of you usually, right?  So do me this one favor.

If I can’t convince you to do that, I suppose you may as well read on.  At least click play up top while you read.  That’s the first track of “Foxy Shazam,” and I can pretty much promise that when it is done playing you will be dying to hear the rest.  In the meantime, you are about to read my best efforts.  They are futile.  I know this already, but what else can I do?

The thing is, to write about music, there needs to be some sort of frame of reference.  I’m at a loss trying to describe something totally new. I might as well be telling you the snozzberry gum tastes like snozzberries.  It’s not that the component pieces – Queen, Meatloaf, 70’s arena rock, 50’s rock-n-roll, a smidge of 80’s synthpop and blue-eyed soul, a drip of gospel, the slimmest remnants of chaotic post-hardcore – are hard to identify; it’s that they’re the sort of bits nobody in their right mind would attempt to emulate, because there’s no possible way to get them right.

Except, of course, that Foxy Shazam did, brilliantly.  And then they took those pieces and synthesized something quite literally beyond imagination.  “Foxy Shazam” is eminently familiar, and yet I can honestly say I’ve never heard anything like it before, never even dreamed something like it before.  That such innovation is even possible within the “rock” formula gives me hope for the future.  I know that sounds like hyperbole; I would just state that “Foxy Shazam” is so wildly original that only the most hyperbolic statements even begin to capture its essence.

Foxy Shazam excel in excess, “Foxy Shazam” is if nothing else a celebration of the gloriously-over-the-top.  “Emo,” or at least its circa-2005 iteration, was frequently hard to take seriously because its performers were so overly serious.  Foxy Shazam are intentionally, knowingly larger than life, and because of it, the emotional depth of their music seems far more earnest and real.  “Foxy Shazam” is, to my mind, the most truly honestly passionate rock album in years.  No moaning about unbearable pains or black eyes and souls.  On “Bye Bye Symphony,” frontman Eric Nally sings “life is a bitch / but she’s totally, totally doable,” and really, isn’t that the truth for most of us deep down?

Lyrically, Nally specializes in taking those loopy desires and oversized dreams we all hold dear but close, the ones we know are silly but treasure anyway, and blowing them up on the big screen.  “Wannabe Angel” is self-explanatory; same with “Unstoppable.”  But he also gives the same treatment to fears and doubts, soaring them to the heavens like a Broadway star. “If I was there for you / well then my dreams, they can’t come true / If I was there for them / I lose my family and my friends / what do I do?” he wails on “Connect”. Or witness “The Only Way To My Heart…” (Hint: it’s “with an axe”).

On “Second Floor,” Nally scurries out a window to find himself “down here with the lower class / down here with the idiots, yeah!”  Is “idiots” affectionate, like Mad Magazine’s “The Usual Gang Of Idiots” or the 2004 Boston Red Sox, a sort of reclaimed term of endearment?  Is it disparaging, a little bit of cognitive dissonance leaking through as he tries to explain away his “chosen” new station in life?  And how do the “idiots” themselves take it?  That there is so much going on in one line is a testament to Nally’s strength as a lyricist.  And these sorts of sentences and sentiments are the norm in his writing.  “Foxy Shazam” is as dense a piece of pop music as I can recall, which makes it all the more spectacular that it’s so goddamn FUN.

An then, of course, there’s their live show.  The first time I saw Foxy Shazam live, at this year’s Bamboozle, their performance was abruptly cut off mid-song, with Nally hanging upside down by his feet from a rafter, Batman-style.  This after 30 minutes that included: Nally betting various audience members $20 that they couldn’t kill him; an experiment in ear-splitting feedback that must have been audible across the festival grounds; and a fully-devoured pack of cigarettes (eaten, not smoked).  Whether the ending was staged, I will never know, and I’m not sure I care.  There’s no way a record this good should work even better live, but Foxy Shazam aren’t just genius musicians, they’re genius performance artists.

I’m pretty certain this would be my #1 album even had I not seen them live this year, but that performance all but sealed the deal.  (I had the pleasure of seeing them twice more this Fall; they were every bit as incredible the second and third time).  And I should mention, lest it get lost in all the gory details, they are indeed fantastic sounding live too.  Keyboardist Sky White, when not leaping up and down on his keyboard and making scary faces to be printed on band t-shirts, is a virtuoso instrumentalist; horn player / background singer Alex Nauth adds verve and depth; and the rest of the band is tight and strong and gutsy.

I’m actually torn about linking to some YouTube footage. Part of me wants you to see just how incredible/ridiculous/groundbreaking/mindblowing their live sets can be; part of me really doesn’t want to ruin them for you if you haven’t gotten to experience them in person.  I leave the choice to you, humble reader.

So as far as convincing goes, that’s about all I’ve got. The only thing left I can tell you is this: I downloaded Foxy Shazam’s previous CD, “Introducing”,  when it came out a couple years ago.  I didn’t like it.  It didn’t do anything for me.  I filed it away and didn’t really think about it again.  Then “Foxy Shazam” leaked this past winter, an unfinished, un-mixed version.  I was planning on ignoring it, but people kept raving about it.  Eventually I gave in and decided I was going to give it one play, just one.

I must have listened to it ten times that night.  A totally raw version, missing instrumental parts, missing background vocals, missing solos, sometimes even missing song intros and outros.  It didn’t matter.  It was that moment in The Wizard Of Oz, where suddenly the whole magical world goes from black and white to Technicolor.  And nothing has looked the same since.

Makeup For The Silence Best Of 2010 Mix cover art

Makeup For The Silence Best Of 2010 Mix

Makeup For The Silence Best Of 2010 Mix cover art

I’m a subscriber to an internet mailing list, Skyway, based on discussion of the band The Replacements. I’ve been on there since I was in high school, back when that really was the way you had discussions about bands on the internet.  (Well there and Usenet, but that was mostly an unmoderated cesspool).  One fun part of the list is that every year around Christmastime, they run a mixtape exchange.  (Or at least it was tapes back in the day; it later moved mostly to CD, and now I wouldn’t be surprised if people are just transferring files online and skipping the post altogether).  Typically I would try and come up with some sort of theme; this year, I just opted for a collection of the year’s highlights.

Which is a long way of saying that I’m posting my Best Of 2010 mix here for anyone who feels like downloading it.

A couple ground rules – I decided I wanted to try and get one song from each of my top 10 albums* on here, maybe not my absolute favorite track on each album but one that fit with the ebb and flow of the mix.  I rounded it out with some of my favorite songs of the year.  I tried to avoid anything that was a big pop single (hence no Cee Lo Green – Fuck You for example) and stuck to stuff that maybe people missed or overlooked.

So download, listen, enjoy! Consider it my [insert any holiday you might celebrate here] present to you :]

MAKEUP FOR THE SILENCE – BEST OF 2010

  1. Intro / Bombs Away – Foxy Shazam
  2. Don’t Stop Now – The Maine
  3. Bullet – Steel Train
  4. The Pleasure Of Your Company – My Favorite Highway
  5. Internet Killed The Video Star – The Limousines
  6. Outta Time – Mercy Mercedes
  7. I’ve Been Thinking – The Narrative
  8. Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind – The Reign Of Kindo
  9. Imaginary Enemy – Circa Survive
  10. Siren – The Graduate
  11. Riot Rhythm – Sleigh Bells
  12. Thinkin ‘Bout Her – What’s Eating Gilbert
  13. Darkness, Everybody – Man Overboard
  14. The Magician – Old 97’s
  15. She’s My Kinda Girl – Runner Runner
  16. Actors (Demo) – All Time Low
  17. Skin And Bones – Motion City Soundtrack
  18. I Cannot Speak – My Favorite Highway

click image to download

*if you know me, you know I do a big detailed Top 10 every year, and that I don’t post it until January.  This year, I was asked to compile my favorites for PoZ’s staff lists.  I’ll post a link to them here when they run on the site, but rest assured I’ll be doing a big long post about each record on the list, one a day in the new year, just like I did last year.

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