Delusions of Adequacy

If you can make it past the band’s unfortunate name, you’ll find a clever and slightly optimistic duo who tap dance on the boundary between the new y’all-ternative (i.e. Wilco) genre and the boyish slack rock of 90s-era anti-heroes like The Lemonheads.

The band foregoes most of the big rock fireworks for seemless melodies, standard country instrumentation (guitar, harmonica, organ), and anti-rock instruments like sleigh bells and xylophone. The end result is a tremendous run of absolutely fantastic country-tinged pop songs.

Hesitation Eyes, especially “Terror on the Tarmac,” will work as the perfect sugar substitute for that cup of coal-black morning coffee that you’re using to prop your eyes after a long night of waiting on your ex’s call.

Pop Culture Press

Every January, after those “best of last year” ballots have been submitted, I start plowing through what the new year is offering. And every time I do that, there’s one record that stands above the pack and digs its claws into my ears and mind and heart, to the point where it’s more than wanting to play it over and over. I have to. In January 2005, that record is the Foxymorons’ Hesitation Eyes. I’d probably be knocked out by the songs alone; how they remind me at times of Big Star (“Just Because”) or where I hoped Wilco was heading before they started to shed their skin almost annually to explore more dissonant and obtuse areas (“I’m Still In Love”). Critics have dropped names like Guided by Voices (nah – that’s a band in dire need of an editor), Sebadoh, and Pavement. And while the starkness of some of the material is the genesis of that name-dropping (or the Tweedy-like vocals), the sheer tunefulness of the material eclipses those bands. Hesitation Eyes is filled with first-rate musicianship, great vocals, killer melodies, and creative arrangements. So imagine how stunned I was to read how David Dewese and Jerry James created these great songs. Not in a magical studio session or during an introspective woodshedding experience, but by shipping songs fragments back and forth across the country. There’s interplay between James and Dewese that leaves me no choice but to deduce that they’re proactively telekinetic. “Everything Changes” is a hit record, period. End of story. Put that song on a WB show or a hip indie film soundtrack, and these guys are stars. And I can’t think of a higher compliment than saying that “This Heart of Mine” is a stone-cold classic, a song that so perfectly hits its mark that I can’t imagine a single nanosecond that could be improved. It’s got a weakly honest vocal, a subtle banjo solo, a hummable chorus and all the heart in the world. I’d recommend the album for that one song, and when you consider that there are eleven more almost as good, I don’t know why you’re still reading. Get this record. Don’t make me come over there and get your wallet.

Stylus Magazine

There’s little to nothing oxymoronic about The Foxymorons themselves: while the term “foxy morons” might apply to any number of Los Angeles County’s denizens, marginally foxy and dubiously moronic Texans David Dewese and Jerry James constitute the matter at hand. Hesitation Eyes, The Foxymorons’ third L.P. since their inception in 1994, takes a stylistic swerve from Beulah-esque indie pop to court Alt Country, with a largely successful outcome. Like aforementioned hapless bimbos cum fashion victims, The Foxymorons—swathed in earnestness like Queen Latifah bursting sweetly from an undersized knit poncho—can’t be blamed for taking the road most traveled. They’re trying to break your heart, and how! Which makes you wonder: Who needs Wilco-imitators when Jeff Tweedy’s far from croaking?

The answer is nobody: Nobody needs Wilco-soundalikes while the real deal’s alive and kicking, but The Foxymorons are exempt from this categorization, and Hesitation Eyes turns out to be a nearly seamless pop/rock pastiche that’s more than just a Wilco rip-off. See, for instance, the album’s first track, “Harvard Hands,” in which James echoes Costello “Darling, know my aim is true,” and again in “Pistol by Your Side,” when he rips off the Beach Boys (“God only knows what I know”). While it’s generally wise to refrain from giving nods to bands you’re clearly ripping off, the Foxymorons are in the clear. This isn’t to say their influences aren’t as plain as the noses on their faces; if neither Dewese nor James had ever heard a Pavement record, the Foxymorons would probably sound like Nickelback spawn, and Dewese’s voice might sound more like that guy who fronts Five For Fighting and less like Alex Chilton with a pot over his head (which is, frankly, kind of awesome; James’ pipes are similarly endearing).

If Hesitation Eyes were anything but a pop record (for the sake of argument, let’s ignore that wholly irritating sound of almost-silence in “Are you tired?” in which The Foxymorons momentarily confuse themselves with Talk Talk), lyrics like, “The algebra is just too much / It won’t add up to you and me” (which, by the way, is most certainly lifted from a 2Gether song, “U + Me = US (Calculus),” inadvertently or not) would be utterly unforgivable. “Terror on the Tarmac,” which plays like a “Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway (Again)” sans hand claps before devolving into Big Star-style guitars, has Dewese singing about falling for the “continental drifter,” “kamikaze kisser,” crazy girl he wants to take home. The lovelorn “This Heart of Mine” and “I’m Still in Love” are pardoned accordingly. Nothing on “Hesitation Eyes” hasn’t been said before, but that’s pop for you—neat, gift-wrapped little choruses that, done properly, lodge themselves in your head like, uh, those weird bug things in The Matrix. In the same way 70% of The Arcade Fire’s repertoire dissolves into disco, the Foxymorons’ foolproof formula is the catchiest of electric guitars picking up the slack of songs that otherwise drone, as is the case of “This Heart of Mine,” as well as “Harvard Hands” and “Lazy Librarian’s Son,” another of the album’s gems.

The verdict is this: the Foxymorons prove their influences varied and well-digested (and their musical regurgitation convincingly original); in danger of spewing the stuff of high school literary magazines, the Foxymorons also strike a credible balance between lover and cynic—as equally able to melt cold critical hearts as freeze over warm gooey ones. On “Pistol by Your Side,” James sings about the radio clicking on, playing “the most appropriate song,” and that’s exactly it: If The Foxymorons can’t put into words what you’re feeling pre-breakup (“Are you tired of me?”), post-breakup (“I love you though I’m second best” and “I’ve lied so you’d think it’s better over here”), pre- (“I’ve tried to tell you how I feel—I’m still in love, do you love me too?”) and post-recovery (“Just because I held you once/Doesn’t mean I still love you”), that’s not a heart—it’s a rock pumping concrete through your PVC-pipe arteries. Is it trite? Whatever. What part of love isn’t? Jealous ex-es, kisses in Wal-Mart parking lots, “sweet dreams and magazines.” In the end, Hesitation Eyes is the aural equivalent of the “Lazy Librarian’s Son,” who—sings Dewese—“was never very good with the girls / But could sell a nun a string of pearls.” I’m sold, anyway.

Coke Machine Glow

So you wish Jeff Tweedy would quit with the Neil Young impression and just do his pre-A Ghost is Born, gently tweaked and modulated Americana again? Well tough beans.

OK, so let’s not be overly pessimistic. Who says no one can pick up that ditched torch? Why not (you guessed it) The Foxymorons? For those who have become despondent for lack of songs that deal with melancholy subject manner, Hesitation Eyes is the perfectly bitter cup of slightly burning tea.

Combining more comprehensible lyricism with Americana musicianship that can hit as hard, though not as often as Wilco’s Summer Teeth or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, The Foxymorons go well with any broken heart, bent cigarette, or good taste for music and subtlety. The group, technically the duo of David Dewese and Jerry James, possess remarkable judgment in terms of arrangement, dynamics, and melody. Under (Centro-matic production man) Matt Pence’s steady hand, the airy, lonesome songs of Hesitation Eyes break and bloom, and can utterly consume the heart.

The group’s lyrics alone could collapse a ventricle; the hazily anxious sentiment of “Still in Love” positively bleeds out of the speakers as James wearily confesses, “I don’t wanna know if you go away / Oh no I’m thinking of you / An unlit cigarette in my hand / Just so I can take the news.” Of course, the duo only augments their emotional impact with appropriately-matched songwriting; the song’s arrangement threatens to fracture at any point as a slow moving bass line can barely lift itself to meet an evanescent xylophone hook. Finally a heavily distorted guitar comes in to fully articulate the song’s mournful sentiment with a beautiful slump of melody. It re-enters for a second chorus appearance before the song cuts out on a scrape of feedback, and the bleak hopelessness of the situation collapses.

Melodically, the group rarely hits a dud; “Lazy Librarian’s Son” follows a sleepy minor-key melody through background forests of electronic tweaking and streams of reverberating guitar chords as James and Dewese join forces in gently wounded harmony. The melody shifts urgently into a rhythmically intense, distorted guitar surge before drooping back into its initial forlorn melodic pattern. “Between the Lines,” follows a melody The Shins would’ve been proud of through a two-stepping guitar lead before pushing forward into a remarkably subtle bridge put into relief against light banjo plucks and gossamer harmony. Again, James’s lyrics are chokingly powerful as he croons, “I’ve spent / The last two in this accident / And my heart has taken a sinister bend.”

Nor does the group shy away from marked pace changes, in addition to internal phrasing variations; “Bending Back” nearly tears through its two-and-a-half minute length with strong hooks and dynamic time-signature shifts. “Everything Changes” smartly offsets the descending, morose heartbreak of “Pistol By Your Side” with its ascending guitar hook.

That astuteness in arrangement, emotional balance and imbalance, and pacing is what makes Hesitation Eyes such an impressive stroke. The group occasionally does choke on a lyrical dud; the chorus of “Everything Changes,” a reiteration of the title, is bland, and James’s consistent downtempo depression can be a bit much on “Are You Tired,” especially given the song’s brief, somewhat directionless duration. But frankly, the only substantial disappointment to weigh on the album is its choice of a closer; the title track is conventional and its bass hook is merely adequate compared to some of the group’s more stunning highs, like the emotional wear-and-tear of “Harvard Hands.” The greater part of the album is on par with some of today’s best Americana, and given the nature of its long-distance recording, is only that much more impressive in context.

So Wilco may be irretrievably down Tweedy’s chosen path (which, I happen to think, isn’t half bad), and Songs: Ohia-cum-Magnolia Electric Company might be too horribly depressing and directionless to bear these days. But that just means it’s time to look for different, promising talent. You’ll be sure you’ve found some when you light up that late-night cigarette, or stir that crappy morning coffee to the tune of Hesitation Eyes.

Left Off The Dial

The Foxymorons are a tale of two singers: one straight and less expressive, the other high and shaky (like Timothy “Speed” Levitch singing Bob Dylan). If you put them together you might have Stephen Malkmus. Then again, maybe not, but I mention the Pavement frontman, because there are several moments on Hesitation Eyes that recall the gentler moments of Wowee Zowee. To be sure, they’ve crafted their own sound, but the comparisons to one of the greatest bands ever are warranted; and the record is pretty damn good.

The duo is at its best on opener “Harvard Hands,” and it’s lazy in a good way like “Father to a Sister of Thought,” getting it up only when it has to with a few mellow blasts of guitar. The blissed-out and Byrds-y “Terror on the Tarmac” is another fine moment, as is the mover, “Bending Back,” and the rousing, acoustic-tinged “Everything Changes,” which has a wonderful two-part chorus: one where they sing “Everything changes,” and the other a playful, moog-like guitar line.

What makes them so interesting, besides being so tuneful, is the outstanding guitar play. It’s not a stretch to say that every song seems to contain a surprise. Would it be nerd-ish to comment on the killer tones? There’s also a bit of playful and subtle experimentation: the backward notes opening the record, the loose, overhead feedback on “I’m Still in Love,” and the pleasant, underlining banjo in “This Heart of Mine.” Back and forth they go, taking turns singing songs both upbeat and resolute, rocking rather unpretentiously and effectively, which is pretty righteous, especially when that closer is so damn satisfying.