Black Foxxes release their third album following a number of personnel and personal changes. Mark Holley has always been open and honest about his physical and mental health challenges and this continues through these nine songs – recorded quickly with a new rhythm section (drummer Finn McClean and bass player Jack Henley) and producer/mixer Ade Bushby.
The record opens with ‘I Am’, a short and sharp yet tense piece that slowly builds up as Mark compares empty houses with creaking floors to his state of mind (‘I am the one who calls your name, I am the one who calls your name, call me by your name, call me blue’; ‘I am alone’). It finishes with a crash of impassioned screams and noise that lead perfectly to recent single ‘Badlands’. With chunky riffs and fuzzy shoegaze effects, this is a trance-like song that finds Mark taking responsibility for his actions: ‘I’m conscious I have made too many mistakes’. As the psychedelic War On Drugs-meets-Deerhunter outro ramps up, he repeats the question ‘Why is this so hard?’
‘Drug Holiday’ recalls the sound of early ’90s Seattle as Mark tries to clear his mind but ends up falling for a girl who plays on his mind, while ‘My Skin’ gives snippets into living on different kinds of medication: ‘My skin is cracked, waking up in sweats’; ‘My body’s shaking, a constant stream of drugs’. ‘Panic’ continues in this introspective vein – ‘When I’m low, kick me down, when I’m weak, days turn to weeks’ – with the words being delivered over a more proggy sound than we’ve heard before, complete with synthesised vocals. ‘Swim’ also leans into this more experimental approach as Mark offers advice we should all live by: ‘Live like you’ll never grow old, dance like you’ve never been taught. I love how you vibrate when I watch’.
We heard elements of Manchester Orchestra in ‘Jungle Skies’, a darkly tinged song that refers back to earlier observations on the record (‘Took the words from my mouth, an empty space within my house’; ‘Searching for an alibi, this lifestyle leads to suicide. Home is where the heart is’) and references to being an ’empty page’. The crash of drums that opens ‘Pacific’ captures the raw style of this record as Mark offers observations on how quickly time can go while the closing ‘The Diving Bell’ heads back into the swirling and anthemic sound heard on ‘Badlands’. Clocking in at 9 1/2 minutes, it throws in harmonies, call-and-response vocals, noisy riffs (think Cardiacs or Oceansize) and goosebump-inducing lyrics about how ‘we can do better’.
Often when a band releases a self-titled album into their career, it’s a time for them to take stock and change their sound and focus on the things that really matter to them. That’s definitely the case with ‘Black Foxxes’ – a record that once again shows why Mark Holley is one of our most passionate and candid songwriters.