If you look at the back of a one dollar bill you’ll see a pyramid, and on top of that pyramid you’ll see a triangle bursting with light, and inside of that triangle bursting with light you’ll see a (confident, almost surprised, but slightly amused-looking) eye.
This symbol is commonly referred to as the “Eye of Providence.” It’s now sometimes associated with Freemasonry and deeply rooted U.S. conspiracy theories but prior to its use in seminal American iconography it was a Christian religious symbol. The three points of the triangle represented the holy trinity (the savior and his old man and the holy ghost) and the eye represented God’s intervention in the affairs of mankind. That’s why the eye is often seen in the sky, surrounded by clouds and light. He (or she?) is watching and, presumably, influencing, when fledgling democracies and pious athletes are in need of divine assistance. A weary-looking (it’s that bottom heavy eye-lid, I think) Eye of Providence is probably the first thing you’ll notice looking at the cover of the new Foxygen album, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic. (We’ll get to that album title in a second.)
The next thing you might notice is that the eye is not residing in its usual confines. Instead, the trinity triangle is inverted and placed directly above the eye so that it appears to be on the verge of impaling it. It’s also colored red. In Nazi concentration camps, prisoners were given badges, different colored inverted triangles, to indicate the reason for their imprisonment. The most commonly known badges might be the yellow triangles given to Jewish prisoners but there were plenty of non-Jewish prisoners also seen worthy of detention in Nazi Germany. Green triangles were given to criminals, purple triangles were given to Jehovah’s Witnesses, and pink triangles were given to homosexual men (later, revived as a symbol of pride rather than shame by the gay community). Red triangles were given to political prisoners. Usually this meant communists, hence, the red, though it also meant virtually anyone other than a member of the Nazi party.
So, we have an Eye of Providence, the symbol for divine intervention, being impaled by, or possibly also emitting, an inverted red triangle, the symbol for political dissenters. We could do quite a bit with this on speculation alone, but let’s bring the title of the album into this as well: We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic. The modern day “ambassadors” of peace and magic are probably band members Sam France and Jonathan Rado. On the cover of the single for their song “Shuggie”, also on the LP, France and Rado are depicted with the same inverted red triangles covering their faces, possibly indicating that they themselves, as ambassadors of peace and magic, are at risk of being persecuted for supporting that ideology. It also might symbolize (as with the pink triangles, above) wearing a potential badge of shame as one of pride.
The juxtaposition with the eye could be a suggestion that the concepts of “peace” and “magic” are the very tools that God might employ when delivering her divine influence to mankind; especially via music. Here, we're specifically talking about the “peace and magic” connoted in the music of the 1960’s and 70’s. By channeling that music, and bringing it to you, in 2013, that would make Foxygen the 21st Century Ambassadors of said “peace and magic.” Many, many, many bands over the past thirty years have been influenced by music from those decades. However, given the foregoing, and the content of the album itself, it might be safe to say that not many bands have been so God damn self-conscious about it as Foxygen. The music on 21st Century is so self-aware it’s practically capable of passing the Turing Test. The entire album seems to be a meta-exercise in recognizing that the same omnipotent power that allowed the music of the 60s and 70s to be created in the first place has allowed the band to re-create these bygone sounds in an entirely different century through some musical divine intervention.
For example, the title of the album also seems to be a nod to the Kinks lyric, “we are the village green preservation society,” from the similarly titled song and album. The mission behind that earliest of concept albums was actually to preserve the more traditional aspects of English society as a sort of counter-movement to the radical youth culture of the 60’s. In a bit of unintended coincidence, however, by making that album, the Kinks also preserved the sound of the album itself to be discovered and appreciated and replicated by future generations that probably aren’t nearly as moved by the homage to traditional English society as they are by what they imagine to be the sounds of “peace and magic” in 1960’s London. Bands like Foxygen then become the present-day ambassadors of this sound; re-creating it with eerie similarity. Thus, the musical Eye of Providence works its magic upon man.
Much will probably be written about the specific bands, albums, songs, or specific parts of songs that influenced this album. Suffice it to say that comparisons to the Beatles (“In The Darkness”), Dylan (“No Destruction”), the Kinks (“San Francisco”), the Velvet Underground (“We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic”), David Bowie (“Oh No 2”) and the vocals of Mick Jagger and Lou Reed (everything on the album) would all be accurate. Throughout the album, the band then makes lyrical reference to the “peace and magic” that it's employing by way of the semi-religious experience of music that transcends decades under the watchful eye of a harmonious deity.
On “Blue Mountain,” the narrator states: “looking through the Bible/I was there at the show/some of the early morning blues on the radio” before he states by the end of the song that “on Blue Mountain/ God will save you/ put the pieces back together.” The idea is that of music as a religion that will save you upon imparting musical pieces of enlightenment from on high, allowing for re-creation and dissemination. (In scripture, God did have a tendency to visit her prophets on mountains in order to deliver her wisdom.) This idea is then revisited on the title track where after howling “we are the 21st century ambassadors of peace and magic” again and again, the narrator sings: “on Blue Mountain/ God insists you put the pieces back together.” This divine inspiration to create music isn't just an option, it’s a compulsion.
The last track on the record, “Oh No 2,” ends with a Lennon/McCartney inspired piano outro and the lyrics “if you believe in love/ everything you see is love/ so try to be what God wants you to be/ and say that I love you again.” God, evidently, wants you to love. She also wants you to spread peace and magic. In other words, according to Foxygen, I think she wants you to make music.