It’s not unfair to say that Foxing are an acquired taste. Even for the most diehard emo fans, the Missouri quintet blending the genre at its most spindly and waifish with math-rock and post-rock doesn’t make for a particularly hard-hitting or accessible listen, and therefore it’s not too hard to see how Foxing have become an undeniably cult act, even as far as underground emo is concerned. Regardless of how pretty or well-composed it is (and in the case of 2015’s Dealer, that’s definitely true), it doesn’t negate how much of an obtuse prospect this band can be to get into.

It’s not as though Nearer My God is drastically different either, but surprisingly enough, it feels as though Foxing have actually set the wheels in motion to have some appeal beyond the very, very niche subset of fans they already have. Gone is a lot of the precise math-rock twiddles and post-rock wateriness, and in its place stands a far more solid emo core, accentuated with electronic and classical touches to keep a blissful sense of scope. It’s still not a particularly straightforward listen either; Foxing may be playing with more conventional ingredients this time around, but it’s all arranged in a wonky, off-kilter fashion that’s no less unwieldy, yet solidly grounded enough to make this their most compelling work to date.

That’s not exactly difficult though, and given how open-ended this presentation remains, Nearer My God isn’t eyeing up a mainstream crossover any time soon. The fact that alt-J sits as an unavoidable reference point more than few times is telling, particularly on tracks like Grand Paradise and Trapped In Dillard’s which go for a great deal conceptually without any kinesis to back it up, or the grinding extended outro of Five Cups, filling over half of its nine minutes with struggling drones have no purpose being here. It’s moments like these that find Foxing at their most implacably unenjoyable, and alongside a number of instrumental choices and a subtextual melodrama that’s never as realised as it could be, there’s clearly a foot kept in the band’s old ways that really hinders them from doing anything more.

That’s just a small part of Nearer To God as a whole though, and pleasingly, Foxing seem to be moving in the right direction with pretty much everything else. The biggest surprise is the both the sheer number of hooks on here and how well they manage to connect; they tend to stick as slow-burning swells as opposed to anything too bombastic, but between the dreamy caress of Lich Prince and the more outwardly muscular indie-rock drive of the title track and Bastardizer, Foxing seem to be dividing their resources remarkably well into a more concise, varied sound. It definitely shows in the prominence of new instrumental additions as well, with the languid strings the drive Won’t Drown and especially the darker electronic crunch of Gameshark sounding decidedly alien, but with unobtrusive production and Connor Murphy’s strident vocal timbre that continues to cut through regardless, it still manages to fit together. That’s good to see too, particularly with how inactive Foxing’s music has come across in the past, and how the attempt to rectify that here has gone particularly well.

For the most part, Nearer My God is the sort of album that very few would have expected Foxing to deliver, being a relatively strong listen with more potential to draw in those who’d previously been alienated than ever before. There are still a number of areas that could do with tightening up (particularly those where the band end up doubling over back to their awkward past sounds), but Nearer My God on the whole is a surprisingly effective way for Foxing to pull off a leaner, sharper presentation with minimal damage to their already-established brand. More than ever though, there’s a newfound confidence in Foxing that they can pull off this move in the long term; after what they’ve shown here, that would be great to see.

7/10

For fans of: Balance And Composure, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, The Front Bottoms
Words by Luke Nuttall

‘Nearer My God’ by Foxing is released on 10th August on Triple Crown Records.

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