Album Review: Foxing – Draw Down The Moon

[Grand Paradise/Hopeless; 2021]

There have been some emo revival acts who have risen to fame by shattering genre expectations, often drawing the ire of the genre’s elitists along the way. Many of those bands end up crawling back into their shells, returning to the sounds expected from within. But Foxing have never shied away from the hate. Throughout their polarizing trajectory, they have braved the critical gatekeepers with the sole purpose of making music that matters to them, even if the results are a mixed bag. 

With the exception of 2013’s debut album The Albatross, which has already been enshrined within the Emo Hall of Fame, each subsequent Foxing release has rubbed at least someone the wrong way. However, it wasn’t until 2018’s Nearer My God that the band felt comfortable enough to break across genre lines and expectations that they’d be the ones to reclaim the traditional sound of emo from the mainstream; it was an allusive statement that they’re no longer trying to be an emo band.

Now, with their newest record, Draw Down The Moon, the trio (down from a quintet) embrace this status with authority, as it finds them completely at home in a house undefined. They’ve occupied a space that allows them to be musical nomads without caring about what your pretentious Twitter timeline thinks ‘real’ emo has to be.

Nevertheless, the band’s sonic excursions aren’t necessarily apparent from the get-go. Draw Down The Moon begins with the deceptive “737”, a cosmically woozy folk number with blips of synthesizers and sparkling guitars, fittingly paired with triumphant horns playing from afar. However, one can sense something big and explosive brewing in the song as a thunderous drumroll begins to flood the dreamy atmosphere. With 40 seconds left, the suspected explosion materializes as singer and guitarist Conor Murphy turns the track on its head with visceral nu-metal roars for the song’s finale. The combustible “737” is a fitting bridge between the cinematic approach of Nearer My God and this new record.

From there, the band’s path diverges as they bleed into a seamless, synth-driven world on the next track, “Go Down Together”. Though grating to the ears initially, “Go Down Together” is a contagious electro-pop banger with a sheen so bright that one can’t help be reminded of the radiant and infectious simplicity of more mainstream indie acts of the early 2010s, particularly Passion Pit. The same can be said about “Where The Lightning Strikes Twice”, though to a far more unflattering degree. With obvious homage to classic new wave acts, “Lightning” will also remind some of Muse’s mid-career output that would eventually plague evening television on ABC Network in the early 2010s. The song isn’t downright awful; it carries with it a level of replayability that deserves some admiration. But, then again, when a band diverges so far from what they’re used to, there will be misses. Even the album’s daunting title track will prove to be a polarizing cut for many. Though groovy, thrilling, and slightly endearing, “Draw Down The Moon”‘s campy character might be a little too much to get behind. 

Between those who will appreciate this record and those who will find it as a desperate grasp for mainstream success, everyone will agree that Draw Down The Moon is an obvious bid for early for 2010s indie-pop revivalism. The band has been hinting at this direction since their last album, and it’s refreshing to witness this bold direction the Missouri band desires to take itself. But, even with most of Draw Down The Moon operating within this indie-pop space that might be foreign to a large portion of their fanbase, Foxing still maintain some of their emo edge in places; guttural vocals, explosive breakdowns, and heart-on-sleeve lyrics ensure they have at least one foot in the fictitious yet all-too-real ‘fifth wave’ of emo. 

Ultimately, Draw Down The Moon proves that this genre was never about a particular sound; it’s always been about striking a chord through forlorn themes, sentiments, and lyrics. This is most clear on the acoustic “At Least We Found The Floor”, as Murphy startles listeners by way of unashamed cynicism; ‘comforting’ a loved one but unable to withhold a taste of brutal honesty: “It’s going to get much worse than this.” It’s not the only display that, even with a record as unexpectedly shapeshifting as this, Foxing’s angsty roots are maintained. On the danceable and deceptively trite firecracker “Bialystok”, Murphy yearns with homesickness weighing in his heart. While the song’s crackling synthetic sounds and simple pop song structure are not traditionally ’emo’, his words still carry that pointed desperation.  

The same can be said about single and album closer “Speak With the Dead,” featuring guest vocals from WHY?, but to a far more realized extent. At seven minutes long, it’s a vivid and ambitious post-rock behemoth that simultaneously paints Murphy remorseful and at an incredibly vulnerable state, dreaming of being in the presence of a departed friend, gone too soon. Not only does Murphy stun listeners with a voice in ruin – one moment conjuring hushed intimacy, the next a wailing scream – but his words are striking as he reminisces of simple moments with this lost friend, while making a sacred promise: “In my dreams I’m on a porch with you / I promise you I’ve been doing well in your name/ And I won’t try to speak with you again / Until I watch my last breath dissipate.” It’s extremely difficult to make a song so towering while imbuing it with such a profound sense of unguarded secrecy, but Foxing has accomplished it impeccably while offering tantalizing insight into what the band could sound like in the future.

With each song on Draw Down The Moon, Foxing posture themselves as a different band, teasing new possibilities at every turn – though there are a few inevitably clumsy attempts. In an interview with SPIN last month, Murphy admitted that with “every record [they]’ve put out so far, it seems like a decent amount of people hate it.” This is the kind of awareness that goes a long way when trying to appreciate a record so fascinatingly imperfect and blatantly jagged around the edges as this one. Foxing are aware they’re alienating some fans, but that makes it the kind of evolution one should admire and value. And with Murphy’s melancholic poetry persisting as the band’s heavy heart and soul, the genre’s most polarizing band, whether you like it or not, has reached yet another new level of boldness and grandeur.