“Ever since I got going, I’ve been going for broke,’’ sings Foxing’s Connor Murphy during “Go Down Together,” a synth-pop number that arrives shortly into the group’s newest album, Draw Down the Moon. The line is a pretty efficient way to sum up Foxing’s whole ethos: Since 2013’s The Albatross, they’ve been a band that zig when any other band would zag, pairing the insurgent energy of the 2010s emo revival to synthesizers, soaring hooks and arena rock worship. Foxing’s whole presentation is a little goofy, sure, but their choruses are life-changing and Murphy often shares some of the best lyrics of the year. Even with their solid catalogue, it’s clear that Foxing have made their masterpiece with Draw Down the Moon.
With that being said, it’s pretty hard to out-do Foxing’s last album, 2018’s Nearer My God. From the title track’s vulnerable chorus of “Does anybody want me at all?” to the nearly 10-minute tribute to lost friends on “Five Cups,” no one was accusing the band of playing it safe. There was also the thrilling duo of “Grand Paradise” and “Gameshark,” two very different but excellent songs that both thrived on a sense of underlying uneasiness. Despite that, it seemed from the very beginning like Murphy wanted to push his limits as a songwriter on Draw Down the Moon. The album was announced with “Speak With the Dead,” a seven-minute opus that features vocals from Yoni Wolf of genre-adverse band WHY?, a slowly rumbling drumbeat and a narrative about dreaming of your friends who have passed on. It’s a gorgeous song—one that traverses pitch-shifted vocals, a second-half key change and a killer guitar solo—but it was a head-scratching lead single.
“Speak With the Dead” makes more sense as the closer of Draw Down the Moon, a collection of 10 songs that each expand upon a single existential theme. The aforementioned “Go Down Together” focuses on hitting financial rock bottom over an MGMT-flavored groove, while the album’s spectacular title track zooms in on the intense desire to prove your commitment to someone you love. “Draw Down the Moon” is certainly a catchy song—when Murphy sings, “I want to show you I can keep it all together,” he delivers the finest melody on the album—but the power comes in his performance. It’s the neediness of Murphy’s voice, where you can tell he’s struggling to demonstrate just how much he needs this person. “If you want to run right out, I will always be a home,” he sings at one point.
Nearly every song on Draw Down the Moon will work well at a Foxing show, whether that’s the dancefloor-ready synth-rock of “Beacons” or the simple but affecting chorus of “Cold Blooded,” but nothing rages quite as hard as the affecting “If I Believed In Love.” In spite of the song’s atmospheric opening, which includes drum machines, blooping synthesizers and vocoder touches, the band take a huge swing in the second half as live drums, crunching guitars and screamed vocals tear through the mix. As gang vocals belt “What do you believe in?” repeatedly during the song’s rampaging ending, the underlying melancholy almost consumes the song. Foxing have touched on the anxiety that comes with love before, but it’s never felt as intimate as it does on “If I Believed In Love.”
“Bialystok,” named for the largest city in northeastern Poland, starts a bit more nondescript than the rest of the record, but eventually roars into one of the band’s greatest songs. During the verse, you’ve got pianos brushing around the edge of the mix while a buzzing synth carries the chords, but all of the emphasis comes with the chorus: “Without you, I feel so homesick everywhere I go,” sings Murphy. It spills out of his mouth at first like an offhand comment, but because of repetition and harmonies, it quickly becomes an ideal example of Draw Down the Moon’s anthemic gloom.
Occasionally, you’ll find Draw Down the Moon taking a breather, but it’s never for long. When Murphy and co. employ acoustic guitars and pianos, they’re often working on building up to a strong ending or a giant chorus. Take the opening “737,” which starts with light guitar noodling but moves towards a breakdown after Murphy repeats the line, “I can’t do this alone,” as if the music was spiraling out in tandem with the lyrics. On the straightforward “At Least We Found the Floor,” Foxing capture what nearing rock bottom feels like, before realizing things could get even worse. Murphy is backed exclusively by an acoustic guitar, which makes the quiet nature of “At Least We Found the Floor” stand out in comparison to the album’s consistent maximalism.
Even with all of Draw Down the Moon’s highlights, I keep coming back to “Where the Lightning Strikes Twice,” a disco-flavored romp that has to be the most positive Foxing tune in years. The song’s got a lovely four-on-the-floor groove and vague touches of Blondie, but Murphy can’t help but lament feeling like he might not achieve the same level of success that he once had. “With everything we gave it, it’s hard not to feel devastated,” he sings at one point. At the least, he seems to realize that Foxing have done their best work yet here, as Murphy proclaims in the first verse that he’s “here up on the hill [he] want[s] to die on.” Foxing have long been one of our most ambitious bands, but Draw Down the Moon confirms they’ll keep going for broke for the foreseeable future.
Ethan Gordon is a writer living in Pittsburgh. His work can be found at No Ripcord, Vice, Mic and others.
Revisit Foxing’s 2018 Paste Studio session below.