Music News

The Quiet Man

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As obscure and overlooked as Metamatic was, it still set the standard for all the synth-pop that followed. Visually arresting images like "The pooling of the light/Reflecting in my eyes/Pick up the flip-top box from the vinyl seat" (from "Metal Beat") nestle snugly against the post-modernistic and inhuman -- but oddly familiar -- music.

As if in response to Metamatic's clinical approach, Foxx continued releasing records, composing most of the music on a 12-string guitar. The Garden, from 1981, is sleek intelligent new wave, The Golden Section (1983) flirts shamelessly with late-'60s psychedelia, and 1985's In Mysterious Ways, a romantic but oddly distant sonic postcard, sold poorly enough that Foxx retreated even deeper underground, sitting out the next decade in a warehouse loft on the outskirts of London.

If Foxx was responsible for creating any sort of tradition, it was always a tradition of the new. After noticing that, 15 years after he set the pace, electronic pop music was finally catching up, he returned. To the joy of his dedicated but dissident fans, his initial comeback -- 1997's Shifting City -- was set to the simple mechanical sound of Metamatic. In contrast to his cultured aloofness, Foxx partnered with young Manchester musician Louis Gordon and embarked upon an unprecedented onslaught of records and live performances. Young, uninhibited, and unpretentious, Gordon has injected Foxx's music -- old and new -- with vigor.

Shifting City introduced a few instant classics using the familiar Foxxian style and familiar themes, found within the insistent throb of "Here We Go" and the elegiac closer "An Ocean We Can Breathe." The same year, Foxx released Cathedral Oceans, an instrumental accompaniment to installations he has exhibited in botanical gardens and churches throughout England. He's described the effect of the visuals as "a moving stained glass window" that changes gradually. Oceanic, immersive, and architectural, the stream of images always returns to a green ivy-covered statue.

A reissue campaign in 2001 brought In Mysterious Ways, The Golden Section, The Garden, and Metamatic back into print with improved sound and an array of long-lost singles tacked onto each one. That merely primed the pump for 2002 and 2003, his most prolific and productive years yet.

Last year, Foxx released the never-heard tapes from 1983's The Golden Section Tour, which showcase his Beatlesesque pop-oriented side. It came coupled with The Omnidelic Exotour, documenting a 1997 warehouse gig with Gordon. Essentially melding together Metamatic with Shifting City, the 15 years separating the two albums seem to evaporate. Old Ultravox tunes like "Dislocation" are sharpened and resheathed, and Foxx classics like "Burning Car" appear revitalized and enhanced with electro-energy.

Also in 2002 came a new Foxx/Gordon album, The Pleasures of Electricity, an eccentric exercise marked by some of Foxx's strangest compositions, including the quasioperatic "Camera" and the relentlessly repetitive "Invisible Women."

This year, Foxx's output continues unabated. Early June saw the release of a second Cathedral Oceans as well as a DVD featuring the ecclesiastical images. And by the end of that month, Foxx and Gordon unveiled Crash and Burn, their nod to all the new digital-underground acts like Felix Da Housecat, Adult., and Peaches, who have all spoken of their affection for Foxx. He presents a stylized, almost naive take on his contemporaries, always riding on the sharp stainless-steel edge of a drum machine.

Crash and Burn's symbolism of the city manifests itself in the methamphetamine rush of "Sex Video," the turbulent eerie "Dust and Light," and dark seedy songs like "She Robot" that explore the gloomy fringes of the metropolis at night. Modern mythologies abound, Foxx examining modern totems like the cell phone, digital camera, and flat-screen TV with an almost erotic obsession: "I guess you've seen it on the news too/In megapixel multiview!" he observes on "Ray 1/Ray 2."

Last month saw the release of Translucence/Drift Music, an ambient project recorded with iconic minimalist composer Harold Budd. The 76-year-old soft-pedal pianist had long been a fan of Foxx's equally distant emotionless works, and the two albums provide more of the same vapid beauty he's purveyed since the early '70s on albums such as The Pearl. On Translucence, Budd's piano wanders with awkward charm like a lost Keith Jarrett while Foxx adds carefully measured amounts of tinting synth. On the more electronically textured Drift Music, Foxx supports Budd with tremendously low notes. On the somber "Stepping Sideways," he adds depth-plumbing tones that shudder like sheet metal on a massive airship.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton