At the helm of Foxing, Conor Murphy knows which elements of emo work best for his band. The switch between shouting and falsetto, the stacked vocals in the chorus, and the deeply personal lyrics are all there. Where the bands contemporaries make sure you know exactly what’s being said, Murphy’s poetry requires a little more unpacking. The music usually follows suit, and the formula worked wonders on the band's 2015 album Dealer. Even when shrouded in the mist of 'Three On A Match,' Foxing welcomed and encouraged you to dig your ears in deeper.
It’s not that these idiosyncrasies are absent on Nearer My God, it’s that there are much more of them. Under the co-production of Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla, Murphy’s toolkit has doubled on this record. 'Grand Paradise' tells the listener quite early that Foxing are here to try new things as multitracks, octave generators, and biting performances battle for the forefront. 'I’ve been thinking of new ways to fuck with old friends,' Murphy explains.
There’s a handful of Foxing trademarks that are missed. The finest songs on Dealer had expansive bridges where drums and propulsion gave Murphy a break. Not so on Nearer My God. The gorgeous strings on 'Heartbeats' are weighed down by a bridge that’s barely noticeable. 'Lich Prince' sticks the landing, however. The guitar solo marks new territory for a band that usually shies away from flashiness. Murphy yelps tirelessly in the background: 'I feel like a houseplant!' It’s this moment where fans can breathe a breath of fresh air knowing that Foxing are finally back.
Dealer suffered slightly from a mid-album flatline, but Nearer My God has the opposite problem of never letting up. Highlight 'Five Cups' attempts to break the albums pace with an ambient section totalling over 5 minutes. The synths and drums echo like a distant war, and tired vocals mumble in the wreckage: 'Crackle like a radio from the gates/I won’t wait to be saved.' The moment is upended by the garrulous 'Heartbeats' and 'Trapped in Dillard’s,' the latter of which showcases some of the albums best storytelling. Foxing could have tagged have tagged one of those signature bridges onto 'Dillard’s,' but the song instead peters out like a dull flame.
'Slapstick' is a phenomenal reminder of the bands past work, but it sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the updated production found throughout Nearer My God. Although it’s sandwiched between two of the bands best cuts, 'Gameshark' is an overproduced bear of a song. As if the squelching vocals and drum machines weren’t enough, the band stack laughing women’s voices and video game sound effects on top of one another, making the wall-of-sound bridge feel unearned. Compare this to past songs like 'Night Channels' where the band wonderfully split duties between quiet and loud, and you’ll be drooling for the past.
One experiment that 100% works is the title track, where Foxing wear heavy influence outside the emo spectrum. The band dips the track in a swamp of pulsing synth and bass while a handful of other elements scream from the mix. 'I feel the love in suspension/And nearer my God/At hallowed ground, holding hands.' It’s not the first time that Murphy’s used religious imagery to amp up the drama, but Foxing pull it off as well as always. The band also recorded versions in four other languages, adding to the mystique of the song.
On the back half of Nearer My God, Foxing sound more like Foxing, which is a fine contrast to the first few songs. The biggest issue is that 'Five Cups' is the only track that offers relative quiet to the listener. As a result, the albums lacks replay value in its breakneck pace. Pick things apart, and it’s a fine addition to the St. Louis band’s catalogue - there are several songs here that will catalyze their already electric live show. Foxing continue to stand above many of their contemporaries, never shying away from using exactly the instrument needed to make the moment memorable. They might just need to leave Pandora’s box a little less ajar.