In terms of what was once referred to as the “emo revival”, now more commonly described as “a mass influx of really good, sad indie rock bands”, there aren’t a lot of groups out there more essential than St. Louis quintet Foxing. The band’s 2013 full length The Albatross was considered an instant classic by some and was without a doubt a huge hit, propelling the band to the top of the indie/DIY punk scene and even making them a name heard from time to time in larger independent music circles. Although critics pegged The Albatross as somewhat of a bastardization of emo music, there was no doubting the power and tenacity of the record, spurred on by an excellent rhythm section and lead vocalist Conor Murphy’s caustic-yet-infectious delivery.
However, when it came down to deciding how their follow-up, Dealer, would sound, balancing fan expectations with the direction the band wanted to take was a bit of an issue. Bassist Josh Coll even suggested in an interview that The Albatross’s signature sound may not have been exactly what Foxing wanted to accomplish in the long run. Still, the five-piece pressed on deeper into the writing process, and eventually emerged with a record that shows progression towards a style more suited to the band as a whole – one that even longtime Albatross fans will be able to get behind.
One of Foxing’s primary strengths as a band is their ability to effectively combine pop sensibilities with broader, more atmospheric overtones. On previous releases, the mixture was a bit choppier and didn’t feel quite as smooth as it maybe should have – however, that issue has been more than fixed on Dealer. Take a track like “Glass Coughs”, one of the high points of the record: It demonstrates a range of dynamics and moods while never feeling thrown together, ebbing and flowing from sleep playlist-worthy lows to a series of chilling crescendos that fire on all cylinders.
Of course, it’d be doing the band and record a disservice to talk about “dynamics and moods” without also discussing Murphy’s voice, which is perhaps the greatest purveyor of these two things. The Albatross certainly wasn’t lacking in vocal highlights, however, the control he exhibits on Dealer is leaps and bounds ahead of his previous work. On earlier recordings, it seemed as though Murphy couldn’t figure out which direction he wanted to go, jumping back and forth from a light falsetto to a slow-burning scream without so much as a warning – while both ends of the spectrum sounded excellent, it was almost as though he didn’t spend enough time in the middle to make them truly special.
On Dealer, though, Murphy seems to know exactly what he’s working with. On opener “Weave”, he keeps the variation to a minimum, letting the larger-than-life instrumentals crash around him – making perhaps an even bigger statement than he would have if he’d chosen to let loose a bit more. This sense of self-knowledge serves to fill one of The Albatross’s biggest holes, and really drives the power and expressiveness of the record over the top.
What exactly he’s expressing is conveyed, in typical Foxing fashion, through intense lyrical detail and imagery. Aside from “Weave”, which mostly revolves around putting The Albatross behind him, Murphy focuses on a central theme of religion, sin, sex, and how all of these things relate themselves to one another both inside his head and in society. Each line reeks of guilt and thoughts of punishment and retribution, all stemming from the conflict between his strict Catholic upbringing and his exploration of his own sexuality – an internal war conveyed through the instrumentation as well, which slide back and forth between soft, contemplative phrases and awe-inspiring impact moments that would make the likes of TWIABP jealous.
At times a gut-punch and at others a soft, sonic embrace, Dealer certainly has done more than its fair share of expanding the boundaries of the “emo” genre. Much like the excellent latest release from a certain abovementioned band, it toes the line where emotional transparency and brute force meet with artistry and grace, dishing out whatever it takes musically to fit each particular message being conveyed at any given time. It’s a fantastic display of instrumental power and songwriting finesse – and it could quite possibly represent Foxing reaching their full potential as a band.