Conor Murphy is not fucking around – the end of the world is coming soon or at least it feels like it is every single day. Murphy carries a sense of impending dread throughout his band Foxing’s spectacular third album, Nearer My God – as if all of this could collapse at any minute. So if you’re gonna square up with the apocalypse then Foxing figured they might as well throw their best punch and create a stone cold classic. And, almost out of necessity, Nearer My God is exactly that.
You see, most bands would have called it quits if they had $30,000 worth of merchandise and gear stolen. Or some bands would have hung it up after having their van totaled by a runaway truck. Even losing a founding member can make bands reconsider their career paths. All of these things have happen to Foxing and have cast a dark cloud over the band’s last two releases. These incidents surely have come close to breaking the band yet the band persevered, understanding however that LP3 would need to be a game changer creatively and professionally, ideally both. The results turned out better than expected. “With this record, it’s the first time where it feels like this shit is worth it,” Murphy told Stereogum earlier this spring. “This is, ‘I don’t care if we get into a van crash every day,’ because this record means something to us.”
A whirlwind of soundscapes throughout, Nearer My God is immaculately produced by Chris Walla and guitarist Eric Hudson, the album’s twelve tracks rarely stay the same for long, effortlessly flowing from one sensory to next and showing a fearlessness towards taking risks of any sorts. Hudson quit his job two years ago, making the creation of Nearer My God his full-time job instead, tirelessly writing and recording song ideas every day and laying the groundwork for 2018’s most daring record. The album’s first “holy shit” moment happens ninety seconds into opening track “Grand Paradise.” After a slow build centered around glitchy ticks and piano keys, Murphy shrieks “I’m shock-collared at the gates of heaven” in way that’d make Isaac Brock envious. The song only grows from there, never giving a moment for the listener to recollect themselves and instead turning in a flourishing if not intoxicating bridge that’ll refuse to leave your memory.
There are bits and pieces of Foxing’s earlier work that influence and set the stage for some of the album’s grandest works. “Trapped in Dillard’s” elegantly flows within its three-and-a-half minutes in a way that Dealer did in its more intimate moments, its electronic clicks interspersed throughout are also reminiscent of how Justin Vernon’s used odd instrumentation on 22, A Million. And the way “Won’t Drown” achingly builds into its climax amongst swirling, ominous strings wouldn’t feel out of place on The Albatross’ b-side. But what elevates these tracks over their predecessors is the band’s seamless execution of each track’s composition. Drummer Jon Hellwig turns in his best work behind the kit, while Hudson and Ricky Sampson go beyond just creating guitar-driven rock – trading in six strings for vocoders, synthesizers, and an array of differing and dizzying samples. The emotional crux of all of this is the nine-minute “Five Cups,” which takes all the crucial elements of the past, present, and future and turn it into something beyond exhilarating. Murphy remembers friends and loved ones who’ve died as an avalanche of ethereal noise collaborate in the background. The vocalist wearily sings, “I want to drive with my eyes closed” repeatedly. And there’s something beautifully tragic about that line – Murphy simultaneously remembering his dead friends while also seemingly wanting to join them, ending with an admission that he “won’t wait to be saved” over mourning horns.
The album has plenty of stunning moments that initially draw you in (certain knockouts include the bagpipe-paced power anthem “Bastardizer” which unleashes some of Murphy’s brashest vocals while the M83-tinged title track blossoms into a booming, soaring crescendo) but it’s Nearer My God’s subtle intricacies and genre-bending throughout that constitutes multiple engaged listening sessions – crucial elements to Nearer My God that may not be recognized immediately. Especially on an album that’s so dense and emotionally overwhelming, it’s easy to initially miss the brilliance of “Lich Prince” transitioning from an oft-kilter indie-rock sprawl into one of the most killer guitar moments recorded this year. Or how closing track “Lambert” paces itself before swelling up into sprawling intoxicating riffs that conjures up Mr. November spending a weekend in the city.
Let’s not pretend that Foxing has never been an ambitious band before. Their first two records, The Albatross and Dealer respectively, stretched the very idea of what an emo band was capable of by circumventing familiar tropes within the genre. But with Nearer My God the band’s ambition became limitless, drawing influences and inspiration from a host of different artists and genres, making it a fool’s errand to categorize this record under any specific type of genre. One of Nearer My God’s biggest influences is Frank Ocean’s Blonde, even if very little of the record sounds like it. Because it’s bigger than music, it’s a mindset – the way Ocean weaves stories while effortlessly switching vocal gears, creating transparent, vibrant emotional music all within a highly meditative space is what fuels Nearer My God.
The album’s title is derived from the 19th-century Christian hymn “Nearer My God to Thee,” which retells the story of Jacob’s dream from the 28th book of Genesis. In popular culture however, that hymn has set the soundtrack for the end of times – famously alleged as the final song the band played as the Titanic sunk as well as being Ted Turner’s song of choice on CNN’s doomsday video that’ll play when the world’s coming to an end. So it’s fitting that there’s a sense of reserved dread flowing throughout Nearer My God – the random hisses and glitches that linger in the background are a constant reminder. But the frenetic standout “Gameshark” takes that dread head on. Written in a way to relieve some stress, “Gameshark” jitters between The Blood Brothers and Hail To The Thief turned up to 11, as Murphy’s pitched-up falsetto points out the devil in the traumatic details (the dizygotic twin of god shows up a lot). Funny enough, the most calming moment on “Gameshark” occurs over the final thirty seconds, as (you guessed it) the band plays “Nearer My God to Thee.” Who said the apocalypse didn’t have a sense of humor?