Ostensibly, Guy Fox is just another indie rock group sprouting from the fertile musical ground of the San Francisco Bay Area. A cursory glance at the band’s lineup reveals the standard setup: two guitarists, a bassist, and a percussionist, with a slew of synthesizers thrown in for good measure. That's why it’s particularly surprising, almost jarring, when a big and bright horn section kicks in about ten seconds into the foursome’s debut album.
Of course, for those who have been following the group’s reign of SF’s local scene since they came together in 2012, some brass instruments in the mix would come as no surprise. The four friends have made a name for themselves as one of the best live shows in the area, curating a sound that playfully borrows from old-school jazz and funk while remaining within the framework of modern indie pop and rock.
Admittedly, it can be very tricky to weave all of these sonic elements together without coming off as tacky (or simply as Mighty Mighty Bosstones devotees). But on Guy Fox’s first full-length, Night Owl, they gracefully maneuver around any such pitfalls to craft a fairly nuanced sound.
Granted, the band seem to have pulled back on their more big band-leaning proclivities for their recorded material. The opening track “Antique Furniture” does put the spotlight on its brass accompaniment by juxtaposing it with an otherwise rather minimal arrangement, but from there things take a turn for the subtle.
The third song, “San Francisco,” is a standout thanks to its effortless catchiness and easygoing charm, with vocalist Nate Witherbee sounding at his most leisurely and natural on the entire record. Lyrically, the song depicts an idealization of its namesake city with lines like “Get right in California / Leave this town forever,” nodding to three of the band members’ own histories as transplants from the Northeast.
This is immediately followed by another of the album’s highlights, “The City Line,” which is a track clearly meant for nighttime. With a throbbing bass line fit for a dance floor, this song takes on SF in a new, somewhat disillusioned light: “Now the city is my home / I won’t apologize / And it’s cool, when it’s right.”
This general conflict becomes a central theme of the eleven-track record. The band struggles with feeling suspended in limbo, in more ways than one—“I Don’t Know” makes a mantra out of romantic indecisiveness, while “Home” captures the difficulty of coming to feel truly at home in a new place.
But, musically, limbo appears to be just the right place for these guys; with hints of electronic music commingling alongside trumpets and sax, their special brand calls Marco Benevento to mind and not much else. On Night Owl, Guy Fox are smart to pair their distinct style with added depth, and prove their potential to branch out as much more than local indie party kings.