By Andrew Willoughby
St. Louis indie rock band Foxing’s third record, “Nearer My God,” is an album about religion, grieving the death of friends, and maturation.
It also just might be the band’s masterpiece.
Foxing’s debut album, 2013’s “The Albatross,” was a heart-wrenching emo/math-rock album which perfected the sound they were going for.
Their sophomore effort, “Dealer,” was released in late 2015 – an album on which the band
experimented with a far more atmospheric take on the subgenre, with much less emphasis on
mathematical rhythmic structures and memorable choruses. The album definitely didn’t live up to its predecessor, and many fans thought Foxing had lost its touch.
However, last summer, frontman Conor Murphy released a self-titled solo album under the name Smidley. The album saw the return of a more basic emo style and the welcome addition of a previously unseen sense of humor in Murphy’s lyricism, especially on the tracks, “No One Likes You,” and “F**k This.”
Lyrically, “Nearer My God” ditches the comedy, but on songs such as “Bastardizer” and “Crown Candy,” Smidley’s songwriting style shines through.
“Grand Paradise” is a perfect introduction to the album.
It sets up the major themes of rejection by Christianity and self-exile and reintroduces the dog
metaphors from the band’s previous projects. Murphy sings in his signature falsetto – backed by a synthetic drum beat and marching piano chord progression – “Luck left late Saturday and now ... I’m shock-collared at the gates of heaven,” which will be mirrored by the closing track as he belts, “Heaven won’t let me in.” Upon the delivery of this line, acoustic drums crash in and an urgent guitar lick is introduced.
This sudden sonic shift signifies a new era for Foxing, as from this point on the remainder of the album is nothing like the band’s previous output. It’s a courageous and bold decision, but it definitely pays off.
“Lich Prince” is a ballad about dealing with depression and wishing former lovers the best. The chorus’ repeated mantra, “I just want real love for you” mirrors that from “Rory” off of Foxing’s first album, “Why don’t you love me back?” Murphy has matured emotionally and it’s beautifully reflected in both his music and lyrics.
By far, “Nearer My God’s” standout track is “Gameshark.” Foxing’s most sinister sounding song, again opening with a synthetic drum beat which is then joined by the band’s catchiest bassline yet. The song examines society’s tendency to glorify musicians with depression and addiction and the effect that has on the artist themselves. It’s also a wonderful example of Murphy’s vocal range.
Then there’s the album’s title track, a song about Murphy’s desire to be desirable. When it was initially released as a single, Foxing simultaneously released five versions of the song – English, Spanish, German, Japanese, and French. Re-recording the song in five languages speaks volumes to the band’s ambition and the universality of the song’s themes.
There’s little to complain about with “Nearer My God.” The one thing that messes with the `ow of the album is the nine-minute-long “Five Cups.” Around the halfway mark of the song, it turns into an atmospheric drone that, while chilling the first time around, gets repetitive on sequential listens.
However, if any track on this album were to make it big, it would be the penultimate “Won’t Drown,” which has a vocal melody that meets the theatrics of Imagine Dragons – a comparison I never thought I would make in a positive way.
“Nearer My God” is one of the most ambitious indie-rock albums of the last few years, and I truly hope it puts Foxing on the map.
Self-reflection has led to Foxing’s most cohesive and complex album yet.