In the early-to-mid-2010s, an earnest, urbane kind of indie rock ruled festival stages, Tumblr, and the pages of NME. Bands like Foals, Two Door Cinema Club, and the Wombats captured the hearts and minds of teens who craved the accessibility of pop but could only accept it when gussied up with skinny jeans, button-downs, and over-enunciated vowels. The sound was poreless, grit-free, and brutally effective: The squeaky-clean riffs and perfectly timed beats of songs like “My Number” or “Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)” are still etched deep in the millennial psyche.
Logic would suggest it would take at least a few more years for this specific brand of indie rock to face a revival, but St. Louis, Missouri emo three-piece Foxing have other plans: Their fourth album, Draw Down the Moon, plays like a reboot of the Peak Yelp era, retreating from the art-rock sprawl of 2018’s emotionally and musically weighty Nearer My God and redirecting towards forceful, 4/4 rhythms and Yannis Philippakis-lite howls. The effect of this genre realignment is uncanny, scraping away the experimentalism that made the band’s earlier records so interesting and reining in lead singer Conor Murphy’s grizzled bark. You only have to listen to single “Go Down Together,” an uninspiring piece of festival rock built around a disco-rock shuffle and a falsetto “you-hoo-hoo” chorus, to understand the trade-off: Although this may be Foxing’s most anonymous record, it also feels like their surest shot at mainstream fame yet.
Their two prior albums, Nearer My God and 2015’s Dealer, suggested that Foxing were working hard to reconcile the emo-folk of their 2013 debut, The Albatross, with their proclivity for grandiose, Explosions in the Sky-style abstraction. Songs like “Slapstick” and “Night Channels” were compositionally and intellectually distended, but they were also melodically distinctive and attuned to the pop songcraft inherent in Murphy’s writing. So it’s disappointing that Draw Down the Moon tamps down Foxing’s brazenly unpredictable streak in favor of what Murphy describes as “songs that sort of sound like Passion Pit.” At least four tracks rely on some variation of the shuffle that animates “Go Down Together,” and only two find Murphy modulating his voice beyond a strained, monotonous yell—not the articulate emo cadence of past records, but something closer to a blandly emotional monotone.
Sometimes, Foxing sound as if they’re about to venture somewhere new—as on the glitchy “Bialystok,” which opens with a muffled clatter in place of drums, or “If I Believed in Love,” a slippery ballad where Murphy’s vocal sounds weightless, refusing to resolve with the song’s ever-changing beat—but that’s rarely the case. Draw Down the Moon most often plays like a collection of Total Life Forever extended cuts, moments of thoughtful lateral thinking tacked onto the beginnings and endings of otherwise familiar indie rock songs.
Lack of depth is a problem across the board: Murphy’s lyricism on Draw Down the Moon is frustratingly platitudinal. He has two main modes: Saying “I’ll be there for you” (“If you should fall, l’ll follow behind/We’ll go down there together/Side by side,” he sings on “Go Down Together”) or asking “Will you be there for me?” (a blood-curdling scream of “I can’t do this alone, I can’t” on “737” provides one of the record’s most dynamic moments). There are some notably good exceptions: The invocation of a “bad luck demon” who is “a rockslide on Halloween,” “a totaled rental in 2016” on the plaintive acoustic guitar ballad “At Least We Found the Floor” is inspired gallows humor; the image of a grounded plane on “737” being sold from hand to hand but never flown is a perfect symbol of hopelessness.
At its best, Draw Down the Moon uses indie-rock convention to initiate the same kinds of destabilizing left turns that animated Nearer My God. “737” builds not to the requisite triumphant peak, but to that baroque, violently screamed climax. “Cold Blooded” gets similar mileage out of Murphy’s ability to step into a full-throated scream; his serrated vocal appears sporadically to hack, machete-like, through the otherwise mundane “ah-ah-ah” chorus. Best of all is “Speak With the Dead,” the record’s portentous closer, which uses power chords and rolling drums to conjure action-movie spectacle. In these moments, Foxing’s new high-gloss exterior feels purposeful: a necessary contrast to the grotesque, a scale for the grandiosity.
There’s nothing strictly wrong with period-specific revivalism; in the same way that black midi bring back memories of King Crimson and Japanese Breakfast’s latest album evokes Jens Lekman and Beirut, Draw Down the Moon memorializes a certain sound and style with all the right period dressing. But where those other records deploy their influences with intent—black midi to sketch a landscape of alienation and political incoherence, Japanese Breakfast to reflect the joy and abundance of her lyrics—Foxing’s evocation of ’00s rock seems to serve no coherent purpose beyond pure accessibility of form. Maybe that’s a fine excuse, too, but Total Life Forever and Holy Fire are hardly old, and, frankly, they still sound pretty good. Draw Down the Moon comes off as simply more, a premature revival with limited utility for anyone who still enjoys the era it conjures.
Buy: Rough Trade
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