Foxtails Brigade (4/8/2016)
Once you hear Laura Weinbach sing, you’ll never mistake her for anyone else. As the front woman of Bay Area indie-pop ensemble Foxtails Brigade, Weinbach breathes life into a character at once sweet and fearsome, angelic and menacing; the allusion of timidity while conjuring great power. Now, on Foxtails Brigade, the group’s third album, Weinbach ups the ante with a resounding roar, solidifying the ensemble’s lineup and distilling their dramatic arrangements into punchy pop songs that propel her and her band mates forward to soaring new heights.
While the group’s previous material, fueled by hazy chamber-pop melodies and spectral strings, reached inwards, Foxtails Brigade detonates their sound in all directions. Bringing together a collective of Bay Area artists including arranger Anton Patzner (Bright Eyes, Pinback), multi-instrumentalist Josh Pollock (John Kale, Van Dyke Parks), bassist Joe Lewis and percussionist / film maker Dominic Mercurio, the group’s “fully realized” lineup employs a vast kaleidoscope of peculiar percussion and newfound synthesizers alongside Patzner’s cinematic arrangements and Weinbach’s distinct guitar figures. Working with veteran Bay Area producer Jeff Saltzman (Blondie, the Killers), Foxtails Brigade celebrates a newfound sense of directness and clarity without sacrificing an ounce of intricacy.
While themes of defeat, alienation and nihilism pervade the album’s eleven tracks, they stand in stark contrast to a vibrant parade of rich string arrangements, warm bass lines and nuanced twists and turns. On lead single “We Are Not Ourselves,” the tension inherent in the song’s title is elevated by the tick-tock of a snare and kick, hair-rising strings and sharp guitar jabs that echo Spoon’s best. Later, the cheery horns and bird sounds on “None But the Lost” provide the perfect foil for Weinbach’s harsh narrative, and the synth-driven “No Fate” shows just how effortlessly Foxtails Brigade can sneak a glossy pop-rock tune into the mix.
On another stand out, “Long Route,” Foxtails Brigade look backwards and forwards at once, diving deep into a sea of vivid textures while keeping a tight hold on their orchestral roots. A bull’s eye summation of the album’s themes, “Long Route” finds Weinbach teetering on the edge of complete hopelessness, struggling to regain even ground as the odds stack against her. As it builds, “Long Route” juggles elements of the accessible and the eccentric into an elegant balance, combining staccato strings, tightly-wound drums and gurgling synths that culminate in a churning wash of sound.
While “Long Route” encapsulates everything the band has mastered on Foxtails Brigade, “Watch Me” is the crown jewel of Weinbach’s vision. As her band mates pull back their grandiose swells and throw her into the spotlight, she repeats one line over and over until it becomes a mantra: “I won’t look back to the old ways, I’ll never return,” she sings, managing a coo and a snarl in one breath. Like everything Foxtails Brigade accomplishes on their self-titled record, it’s defiant yet wounded, sweet yet fierce; the sound of underdogs who won’t go away quietly. If we’re sinking, Foxtails Brigade tells us, then let’s explode into fireworks.