The virtues of the sporadic musical project are many. Without the pressures of a full-time touring gig, artists often sound looser and more inspired than the projects they’re best known for — think Damon Albarn (Blur vs. Gorillaz), Kim Deal (Pixies vs. The Breeders) or Lou Barlow (Dinosaur Jr. vs. Sebadoh).
But if something is sporadic and therefore easily set aside for years, progress is hard to measure. If there’s little pressure to begin with — time-wise, economic, etc. — a more casual approach is pretty much built in, resulting in something that can sound alternately self-indulgent and out of practice. It’s a fraught path, but against the odds, The Foxymorons have sidestepped most of its obstacles.
The Foxymorons aren’t exactly a side project, but they are inherently sporadic. Jerry James and David Dewese, who have been buddies since their childhood in Mesquite, Texas, began playing music together after finding a drumkit in an abandoned church in the mid-’90s. After a well-received 7-inch and four randomly released full-lengths of wry, heart-on-its-sleeve indie rock and twangy folk-pop, they’ve returned with their first new album in five years, “Fake Yoga.” Now in their 40s, the guys (Dewese in San Diego and James in Fort Worth, Texas) have wedged their latest passion project between the slices of life that soak up most of their time.
Their complementary but wildly different voices require a careful balance, and the band usually finds it. It’s not simply that they’ve learned how to sound cohesive whenever they’re inspired or available. It’s that their voices seemingly belong in two different bands; newcomers might find James’ cracked, tinder-dry pipes and Dewese’s rich, smooth crooning a bit of a stylistic contradiction. Similarly, James’ and Dewese’s songwriting and playing are alternately slack and manicured, rambling and plotted. It’s part of the band’s charm, and something that wasn’t entirely out of place during their ’90s indie rock genesis.
Aggressive new album “Fake Yoga,” their first in five years, wavers between wounded and joyous, cynical and guileless. It suffers from some of the same songwriting and pacing issues as previous full-lengths, but its highs are loftier than anything the band has released. Credit goes in part to drummer Will Johnson, who’s best known for his work in fuzz-rock titans Centro-matic and the haunting, spare South San Gabriel. Johnson, who previously drummed on three songs on the Foxymorons’ 2001 release “Rodeo City,” provides the band’s best backbeats so far, especially on the blissed-out (if lyrically weak) “Permanent Frown,” which sounds like a sugar-coated nugget of ’70s glam-pop being digested by an alt-rocker.
Dewese’s innate understanding of pop melodies pays off repeatedly on the otherwise noisy record, playing the sophisticated foil to James’ poetic but musically straightforward laments. The balance isn’t always there, particularly when numerous James songs are sequenced back-to-back, crying out for the bubble-grunge lift of Dewese’s voice, but the subtle Velvet Underground textures of “Hugs/Drugs” and the Pixies-like lope of “Slow Geometry” at least make “Fake Yoga” a consistently rewarding guitar album (and a tight one, clocking in just over a half-hour in 10 songs).
Past the stylistic signposts — Big Star, Gram Parsons, Pavement — the Foxymorons have carved an impressive path for themselves in an art form that doesn’t always reward long stretches off or fits of playful exploration. More than two decades into their musical partnership, “Fake Yoga” finds Dewese and James as hungry, entertaining and tuneful as ever.