In 2011, right in the thick of the emo revival, Foxing popped up on the emo band radar. Judging by the band name, they were automatically off to a relatively promising start. “Foxing” is succinct, unique, and memorable. It’s appropriately capitalized. It doesn’t have sports, parents, a celebrity, pants, unnecessary punctuation, or some other assortment of emo band name characteristics that scream, “We desperately want our band to be associated with the emo revival, but meaningfully contributing to it is an ask far too great.”
There was a lot of hype around Foxing back then. There was no shortage of internet forum comments predicting that they were going to become the next big thing in the genre space, that their popularity was going to explode into the mainstream, or that one of their future LPs would be a masterpiece. I recall attending a show headlined by mid-tier emo veterans The Early November, and seeing the guitarist rock a Foxing shirt. Black, minimal design, little more than the band name printed across in white. The name spoke for itself, apparently. Seeing this was enough to confirm my hypothesis that Foxing’s hype existed not only in random internet forums, but in the outside world as well.
Given that it’s been about 10 years since their inception, and that they have a fourth album on the way, perhaps a refresher on their discography thus far is in order.
The Albatross (2013)
I’ll cut right to the chase: I’ve always been of the opinion that the amount of hype generated by Foxing’s debut was nonsensical. Regretfully, I let this disproportionate amount of hype affect my view of the album: I shunned it as overrated garbage for years. I recently revisited The Albatross, and was surprised to ultimately conclude that it’s only partially as bad as I remember it being. It has a couple high points that I never allowed myself to appreciate back in the day. It’s certainly a step above many albums made by the host of other football-daddy-simp-kardashian-peepee!-pants! bands of the early-to-mid 2010s.
I maintain, however, that the album is nothing special. I had always wondered where in The Albatross people saw markers that suggested this band was going to stand out.
Perhaps part of its allure was how promising the opener sounded, if only at face value. Given the cinematic nature of “Bloodhound,” it’s evident that Foxing aims to prepare the listener for an epic and grand album. We’re eased into the album with somber strings and a rich-sounding mini-choir. I could certainly imagine these being nice touches at the beginning of an album that warrants such an introduction. But at its core, The Albatross is not such an album. It’s just a run-of-the-mill emo album.
There’s a valiant attempt to make good on the epic-sounding buildup of “Bloodhound” on the follow-up, “Intuit,” a song primarily dominated by loud, shimmering guitars. But this attempt is just too valiant; the dynamics are overwhelming at the expense of the melodies, which come out sounding flat and uncreative. The instrumentation on “Rory” is similarly lacking. Vocalist Conor Murphy consistently makes respectable efforts to compensate for these instrumental deficiencies by always sounding as impassioned as humanly possible. But often, particularly in “Rory,” it comes across as just that: overcompensating.
The Albatross is most digestible when Foxing take a quality-over-quantity approach in crafting out the instrumentals. Take “The Medic,” where Murphy sings over a pleasant, albeit somewhat plain, guitar melody. Murphy’s eccentric vocal deliveries work well here because, unlike in “Intuit” or “Rory,” the instruments aren’t waging an unnecessary battle to be as loud and grading as he is.
But Murphy’s vocals occasionally introduce an additional problem into the mix: no amount of passion in his delivery can make some of the astoundly bad lyrics on The Albatross sound good. I can’t believe that the one single off this album, “Rory,” has lyrics so unforgivably basic and derivative as “So why don’t you love me back? So why don’t you love me back? So why don’t you love me back? So why don’t you love me back?” The lyrics on “The Medic” are similarly egregious. What character on an emo album doesn’t always smell like cigarettes and have whiskey on their breath? These tropes are beyond overused.
Now, this isn’t to say that all the lyrics on The Albatross are bad. Plenty of times, Foxing showcase an impressive ability to write thought-provoking imagery and metaphors. The problem is that they’re easy to miss. Perhaps if more of the good lyrics were chosen to be emphasized or repeated in the hooks, or if the vocals in the mix were clearer more of the time, the creative lyricism in The Albatross would have been able to make more of an impact.
The instrumentals are also plagued by derivativeness. Those damned familiar “twinkly” guitars are abundant. The worst offenders lie at the tail end of the album: “Den Mother” and “Quietus” offer little to nothing to set themselves apart from the tracks on the quintessential twinkly emo album, American Football.
“Bit by a Dead Bee” parts I and II are probably the highest points on the album. “Pt. I” is notably home to the “doot-doot-doot-doodoodootdoot-guitars-while-screaming” part. It’s arguably the most intense bit of music on the album. The precision with which this quick guitar melody inserts itself along Murphy’s screams is very satisfying. However, I must add the caveat that the part sounds just a little too much like The Fall of Troy. Putting that aside, it’s still a damn cool stretch of music. It also does a great job of setting up the cathartic crash of instrumentals that finish out the song — one of the few instances on The Albatross where loud dynamics work in Foxing’s favor. “Pt II” follows this up by taking the intensity down several notches, an appropriate shift that compliments “Pt I” perfectly.
Overall, The Albatross is a half-decently produced emo album with a few interesting parts, but more often than not, it’s disappointingly derivative. The most consistently compelling driving force is Conor Murphy’s vocal performance. But to make a good album, you need more than just passionate vocal deliveries.
I’d given Dealer, Foxing’s sophomore effort, a few listens when it came out in 2015, quickly concluding that it was boring drivel. I recently returned to it, and initially formed the same opinion. When listening, I often would be halfway through before I even knew it. I just didn’t find it very captivating.
However, I eventually came around to the album, and now firmly view it as their strongest and most complete album to date.
Dealer doesn’t have much in the way of punchy, attention-grabbing hooks. It’s a quiet album that doesn’t bombastically advertise its strengths. However, it would be a mistake to assume from this that it doesn’t have strengths.
Regarding instrumental composition, it’s evident that Foxing took a step back and decided to use a more reserved, methodical approach. The mixing between the different instruments and the vocals are carefully balanced so that every part is crystal clear. With this, the intricacies in the instruments are a lot easier to appreciate. The guitar on “The Magdalene” starts off sparse and gloomy, and in the second half it flourishes into a much fuller, dream-like sound — perhaps “twinkly,” but not in a way that’s cliche. The earlier parts of the pensive ballad “Night Channels” are successfully driven by just a piano melody and some soft vocals. Most impressive is “Winding Cloth,” an instrumental that gets progressively more beautiful as more elements are gradually introduced.
To be clear, Foxing don’t try to make every song on Dealer an ultra-complex symphony. There’s a carefully considered balance between sticking to their roots as a rock band, as seen in the opener “Weave,” and being ambitious when the situation calls for it, like when “Winding Cloth” comes around.
Conor Murphy’s vocals are also significantly smoother on Dealer. He sounds calmer and more comfortable. He still has plenty of opportunities to raise his voice, but when he does, he sounds more in control and dynamically in sync with the rest of the band. His vocal versatility is most impressive on “Glass Coughs.” With each chorus, his delivery subtly gets more and more piercing, a progression that amplifies the liveliness of the song considerably.
Like on The Albatross, the lyrics on Dealer are rich with fascinating imagery and metaphors — particularly biblical metaphors. They often tie into themes of guilt, such as on “The Magdalene,” which is about how religion can impose guilt regarding sexuality.
Perhaps “Indica” is the most striking example of strong lyricism. The song is about the horrid memories that come with having served in war. It’s a first-hand account, written by bassist Josh Coll, who served in Afghanistan. The degree to how dark the lyrics are is impressive in it of itself. It speaks to the courage of the band, and especially Coll, to tackle such painful subject matter in their music. As for the actual lyrical content, practically every line in the song is incredibly explicit. “Indica” was fearlessly written; nothing is off limits when it comes to the theme of death — more specifically, killing. It’s an absolutely heartbreaking song. The guitar melody, like so many other melodies on Dealer, is simple but sad. It’s played quietly, rightfully allowing ample space for the lyrics to be the main focus of the song. The trumpet, similarly reserved, compliments the guitars and vocals perfectly.
And here I was all this time, before I actually paid attention to the lyrics, thinking that “Indica” was about how Conor Murphy likes to smoke weed sometimes. Boy, was I dead wrong.
Dealer has a certain sadness that’s ubiquitous throughout and never completely lets up. Generally, I’m partial to dynamic albums that change things up a little more. But after giving this a good amount of listens, its consistency in tone has me completely won over. There’s a certain depth that’s achieved by staying with its primary atmosphere and skipping the detours. On the closer, “Three on a Match,” Murphy lays out a line that comes across as particularly heavy: “I’m survived by the weight of my own sins.” If a band decided to just randomly chuck this line into a verse near the end of a half-assed garbage album just for the hell of it, it wouldn’t have much of an impact. But there are so many non-stop references to dark themes like guilt on Dealer that when that line comes up in the closer, it credibly serves as a hard-hitting, all-encompassing summary.
There are only a few parts of the album that I have negative criticisms of. “Eiffel” is a comparatively average song that the album could have done without. And there are one or two instrumental features that don’t quite hit the mark for me. The smooth and casual-sounding sax on “Laundered” sticks out as a little out of place given that it’s preceded by such an emotionally heavy atmosphere. But other than that, I don’t have a whole lot to complain about. It’s an incredibly cohesive album filled with heavy lyrics, gorgeous instrumentals, and well-balanced mixing.
Nearer My God (2018)
For their third LP, Foxing take another crack at making something grand. They try a handful of new ideas, and the result is their most eccentric effort yet. Unlike Dealer, Nearer My God changes its pace up quite a few times throughout the album. In various places, Foxing go from quiet to loud, from slow to fast, and from composed to the brink of insanity.
Nearer My God starts off with a subtle electronic beat paired with some sinister piano chords. When Murphy comes in, his voice is high-pitched and doubled. He sounds anxious and dissatisfied. The lyrics on “Grand Paradise” are typical of Foxing: negative and shrouded in creepy metaphors. When the heavy guitars finally make their appearance for the first time, it’s only for a moment. The drawn out build-up on this song is so cool, it makes my skin crawl. Foxing prove themselves to be absolute masters of suspense with this song. It’s incredibly rewarding when all of the instruments finally let loose and come together. Murphy’s screams are a really nice touch, too. Every transition on “Grand Paradise” is perfectly timed, every instrument is applied appropriately in each situation. It’s a perfectly crafted Foxing song that gets me absolutely pumped for this album every time.
The main aspect of what makes “Grand Paradise” so great are the sharp dynamic contrasts within the song, and this musical technique makes its way onto other songs with similar success. “Lich Prince,” for instance, begins innocuously, with Murphy characteristically expressing his dissatisfaction with life over a barely-audible beat. At the start of the chorus, the rest of the band barges in loudly, instantly upping the intensity of the song from zero to 100. Later, on the bridge, Murphy gets increasingly agitated with the understandably horrifying realization that he feels “like a house plant,” eventually breaking into an anguished scream. He does a flawless job setting up the guitar solo, which is unfortunately just a touch too sanitary and straight-forward to be satisfying.
“Gameshark” is another track with a refreshing amount of personality. Every time I hear it, I’m on the edge of my seat. It’s an anxiety-ridden song, and there are so many elements that come together to make it that way. The swift bassline, Murphy’s high-pitched vocals, that weird water droplet effect. And those beautiful lyrics. Sonically, it’s no doubt a creepy song in its own right, but those heavy biblical references just make the song hit that much harder.
These are the types of songs that give the most life to Nearer My God. The more tempered, straight-forward anthems like the title track and “Bastardizer” aren’t bad per se. Perhaps they’re even necessary to counter the more intense songs, so as to not make the album overwhelming. But I can’t help but be a little bit bored by them. I also have to speculate: is the aim with some of these tracks to sound like Band of Horses? Is that why that’s the album cover? If so, I can’t endorse this direction. Foxing are capable of better. They’re at their best when they’re throwing curveballs, not when they sound like Band of Horses.
Speaking of curveballs, “Five Cups” is a daringly epic song at a 9-minute runtime. In my mind, it serves as a (really long) interlude that connects the two halves of the album. It’s a muted, meditative song that slowly builds around a simple mantra: “I want to drive with my eyes closed.” In the second half of the song, both the beat and the vocals sound distant and distorted. It’s an interesting progression that makes me imagine the narrator of the song, presumably Murphy, sinking deeper and deeper into hopelessness.
I don’t think Foxing don’t quite ever fully return from whatever pit of darkness they delved into during “Five Cups,” because unfortunately, the back half of Nearer My God is a complete letdown. The chorus on “Heartbeats” is just weird. It’s creepy, which I don’t mind, but it also sounds to me like it’s meant to primarily be catchy, and it’s not. So overall it just makes me confused. “Crown Candy” sounds stuck in a similarly awkward limbo between creepy and anthemic. The beats featured on “Trapped in Dillard’s” lack subtlety and as a result come across as gimmicky. The closer is underwhelming.
There are so many positive characteristics in the first half of the album to note. I appreciate the satisfying change-ups in dynamics, the eccentric vocals, and the selectively placed synthetic beats, which pan out well more often than not. I will dare to claim that Nearer My God’s first half is the best half-album that Foxing has ever released. But the album as a whole lacks follow-through. The back half isn’t even remotely in the same league as the front half. I imagine a world in which Nearer My God was split up into two EPs. How devastatingly disappointing that second EP would have been.
Given how good the first half is, though, I still view Nearer My God as a solid album overall.
Well, that’s my overview of Foxing’s released albums so far. Their fourth album is coming out soon, probably, so we’ll see what they do from here. Thanks for reading.