Review Summary: New ways to fuck with old friends.
Conor Murphy thinks the world is fucked. Interpret that statement how you will – politically？ Economically？ As a catch-all 'no, I think the world is actively fucked and we're going to die'？ There's room for almost every reading in here, because being far too talented a lyricist to just paint pictures of sinking ships where the ship is like, society, dude, Murphy finds his way at the problem through circuitous and ingenious routes. Like, say, the last song played by the band as the Titanic sank, "Nearer, My God, to Thee", linking the bipolar worlds of "Gameshark" and the title track, not only in the form of a literal sample but also subtle lyrical integrations. Or the horrifying CNN Doomsday tape which featured the same song making its grim prophecy known in the album's desolate soundscapes. I'm still searching out doors into this album's elusive and shifting core – and probably will be for the foreseeable future, whether there's even an identifiable thing
to get is up for debate – but the closest Nearer My God
gets to a mission statement is that trilogy of songs with the haunted, lonely sample of "Nearer, My God, to Thee" at their centre.
"Gameshark" recalls Hail to the Thief
-era Radiohead's most frenetic excesses filtered through a blunt tale of suicidal ideation, where evil twins of God seem to stalk the protagonist through life like the eponymous character in Third Eye Blind's "God of Wine". It's paranoid and desperate as a hunted animal, but the title track wastes no time turning that world on its head, not through forced optimism but via the year's most rousing coup for some good ol' human connection. In the best songwriting move Foxing have ever pulled, the simplicity of the verse melody is upended when Conor's delivery seems to speed up at the bridge. All he's done is remove the interjecting lines with fewer syllables, but the effect is of a flurry of lyrics raining down on the listener with no room for breath, the "ashing cigarettes on gravestones / pin photographs on cork boards / unfollowing my dead friends" capturing a post-Facebook existential angst more elegantly than anything I can think of. With a nine-minute portrait of depression rounding out the trilogy, like being subsumed in black liquid which wants to hug you for eternity and also kill you, Nearer My God
establishes itself as emo's first definitive document on digital-age despair. This is the sound of surveillance state nihilism, a logical reaction to a world where assuming literally everything could end in a matter of seconds is no longer conspiracy theory paranoia but idle breakfast talk, and CNN's quiet end-world prophecy arrived not carved on stone tablets but leaked to the net thanks to an intern.
It's a first side that could rival Deathconsciousness
for apocalyptic bleakness. Which is why Foxing play their ace card only after the most gruelling part is over, filling the second half with 25 minutes of bangin' electro-pop packed full of more hooks than an abattoir. While "Lambert" is jostling with any song from Sleep Well Beast
for a spot on your 'sad baritone men' playlist, "Heartbeats" will be jostling for a spot on the Top 40, even with its surreal Lynchian breakdown of a bridge. "Trapped in Dillard's"' various bleepings and bloopings recall the spacier moments of The Colour in Anything
, while "Lambert" and "Crown Candy" both look back to Silent Alarm
's fireworks-factory explosions once they get around to, uh, exploding. The sugary-sweet hook of "Lich Prince" invites comparison to The Albatross
, but with the histrionic and slightly cringeworthy wails demanding love and attention replaced with a bittersweet, wiser admission - "I just want real love for you" - a moving and understated touch which leads into a motherfucking earth-melter of a solo. "Won't Drown" starts out as a spacey R&B ballad that Justin Vernon would be proud of, before some gorgeous skittering percussion introduces a complicating element; the string scratch into the final chorus is so good it marks the song as an instant contender for album highlight, as does "Bastardizer" implementing some fucking bagpipes for no other reason than because it can.
In his interview with DIY mag, Murphy put to words what's inherent in the beautiful, chaotic, batshit insane music he spent two years making: "When you highlight the worst part of the world, you start to see the nice parts. You start to see love when you're staring at evil". This is why a soundtrack to the world falling apart can still plaster a dumb smile on my face, when Murphy responds to the desperate growl of "you think I must not remember" with the simplest of rejoinders, "...but I do". Or when the sterile loneliness of the St. Louis airport in "Lambert" is suddenly brought to vivid, pulsating colour as Murphy's bandmates arrive at gale force to whisk him away. There's comfort in companionship even if it's on a lifeboat watching the Titanic go down, and not putting your faith in anything except the simplicity in that. All this to say, I won't wait to be saved.