William Basinski shares a few traits with the late director William Friedkin. The two artists—who both have answered to the nickname “Billy”—have created prolific bodies of work while moving gracefully between disparate genres. Like Friedkin, Basinski has become bolder while growing older, letting his hair down on playful releases that contrast with the somber drones he is known for. In 2020, right around the time that he moved from NYC to the palm-lined streets of Los Angeles, the revered ambient composer upset listeners’ expectations with a new dance-pop project, Sparkle Division. Collaborating with electronic artist Preston Wendel—who records solo as Shania Taint—Basinski pulled out his saxophone and his sense of humor on To Feel Embraced, an album of fizzy filter-disco concoctions.
Three years later, the duo returns with Foxy, ushering in the teeth-grinding edginess that inevitably follows a euphoric high. The album’s deconstructed disco maintains many of the elements of Sparkle Division’s debut—schmaltzy exotica strings, moody piano chords, noir-jazz standup bass—but a specter of evil now lurks in the shadows. On To Feel Embraced, choppy samples and looping vocal snippets made the duo’s soft-focus songs sound more like Eccojams than Jam City, but uch of their harder-edged sophomore effort is propelled by hectic breakbeats, while Basinski’s sax blurts continually, providing the only constant in a panoply of genre explorations. Beatless fantasia “The Punch!” offers the closest link to his drone works, sinking into a morass of bell-like tones that reverberate across nearly nine minutes.
As the carefree hedonism of the 1960s’ free-love bubble was burst by the Manson Family murders at decade’s end, parties in the Hollywood Hills took on a nightmarish quality. Foxy is guided by a loose narrative set in that historical moment that gives the eight songs their titles and structure. A note on the album’s Bandcamp page spells out the album’s characters and trajectory: “gorgeous young interns,” a drug dealer named Foxy, drinks spiked with LSD25. “Have Some Punch” and its reprise “We Were There” bookend the album’s path from rising tension to bad acid trip, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had along the way.
The stomping drums and late-’80s production touches of Foxy’s title track initially bring the attitude of “What Have You Done for Me Lately” until silky synths glide into the chillout room. After the album’s vaporous centerpiece, “The Punch!,” drum’n’bass rhythms teased out in previous tracks are shoved to the front of “Oh Yeah!” If it wasn’t for Max Kaplan’s tenor sax, this airy banger could be mistaken for the soundtrack of an N64 snowboarding game. By the time they reach the liquid beats of “Slip and Slide,” the two musicians are riding the faders in a way that suggests a Boiler Room Session loosened up by a tray of bellinis; the chipper “We Were There” wraps it all up in a deranged, dissonant bow. Like the taut three-act structure of a Friedkin film with an ambiguous ending, Foxy stays compelling until the finish.
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