Self-styled “crayon-rock” band Foyer Red create music that’s fascinating from a compositional perspective, an ever-shifting riot of color that does its best to disorient and delight in equal measure. If you can’t keep up with the New York quintet’s debut album Yarn the Hours Away, that’s understandable; they love keeping listeners on their toes, with 2021’s Zigzag Wombat EP sounding like a warmup in comparison.
The 12 songs that make up Yarn the Hours Away reward multiple listens. The collection is layered and playful, but never to the extreme—instead it seems happy to throw disparate musical elements into a song and hammer away at them until they fit, no matter how seemingly lopsided the results. They’re very good at making it work. Recommended for fans of Deerhoof, of Montreal or Bruiser and Bicycle, this is a record that sounds like it was an absolute joy to create.
With all that going on, we figured you’d need a little help with the album’s dense lyrical narrative, so we asked the band’s primary lyricist Elana Riordan to break it down for us. Much like the album itself, there’s a lot going on. Yarn the Hours Away is out now on Carpark Records and streaming below.
1. “Plumbers Unite!”
My first few lines in this song reference a predetermined goal and the act of running in place; it places the character in a side-scroller video game. It’s the everyday grind taken literally, but augmented in the context of a game with objectives, points, a finite amount of lives, etc. When the day is done, however, the protagonist exits the simulation and ponders the sentience of the console, feeling strange about the possibility after several hours of manipulation.
When I was little I was obsessed with my GameCube, but after entering cheat codes on my Harvest Moon game, I felt sooo guilty. I impulsively deleted my game data and later had recurring nightmares about my GameCube’s anger toward me, something I knew was unrealistic but felt so creepy and real.
2. “Unwaxed Flavored Floss”
The character in this song is considering whether they could do otherwise, or if their choices have been determined by a chain of falling dominos long before they were born. They have freely chosen an objective and move toward it, but biological processes and environmental conditions inevitably drive their behavior, illustrated with their sweat glands activating, thus dropping the prize from their hands. Their focus is hijacked as they tend to their growling stomach.
Before they know it, they’re scratching the Reward Prediction Error encoded itch in their brain, checking social media in the hopes of that occasional instance of positive instead of neutral stimuli, rewarding them with a hit of dopamine. Instead, they end up clicking on a hyper specific advertisement about the food they are craving, served by artificial intelligence that has anticipated they would be at their cupboards hungry at this very moment of the day based on being fed data on every click they’ve ever made and every step they’ve ever taken in the history of their smartphone usage.
The “the more that I pull, the longer the rope” line works on the level of the character standing in the mirror about to floss, pondering the idea that the more they learn, the less they know, as well as them literally pulling out a string of floss. They attempt to outmaneuver fate by switching the side of their mouth they would have unconsciously started flossing their teeth on, thus proving their agency. The last line questions whether a scenario exists where they could have truly thwarted destiny, or if any meddling was always an intrinsic part of landing them at the destination they’ve arrived at.
3. “Wetland Walk”
As a teen, I was tied to two very compelling environments: the city and the woods. I lived next to an arboretum which included acres of woods with trails, all of which I was very familiar with. There’s a trail that goes through the swamp called Wetland Walk. Every so often I would visit the swamp at night, which by nightfall transformed itself into a murky oasis where I felt most euphoric.
In the song there are three narrators, each working together to build a fantastical and surrealist version of the swamp. My character narrates the happenings of the swamp pretty closely to how I experienced them: like it was its own world, swirling with sounds and vibrations that were lively and enchanting. And then, at one point, being ejected from the safety of the swamp—cross-faded in the woods with no flashlight, stumbling stomach-first into trees until being reprimanded by the park ranger.
Kristina and Mitch’s characters work in tandem with one another. Mitch’s character is traversing the swamp on their own hero’s journey, monster hunting deep in the bog, waiting for the most opportune moment. As they dawdle, night falls and they bemoan having to leave a place they’ve grown to fancy. Kristina embodies the swamp monster, watching the hunter’s every move with amusement waiting to strike.
4. “A Barnyard Bop”
The narrative of this song feels like an exploration of imagination, thinking about ephemerality and permanence. It starts in an imagined landscape: deep red skies and hot sand—a jewel-adorned warrior is all alone post-battle, her sword marbled with the blood of her enemies. After she buries it, will anyone know she’d won?
Then, a new landscape: we turn to dark, Metropolis-style cityscape in black and white and take note of old, defunct bridges sitting idly like skeletons. Thinking of Certau’s “Walking in the City,” the narrator describes each individual walking step as an improvised phrase that creates a new city, a new machine. As the narrator tries to access the hive mind of the city, they become its central nucleus. The machine is personified, bouncing up and down pumping out smoke. And it sighs.
My character in “Etc” finds themselves in a dysfunctional relationship in which gender informs internal struggles of power and control. Instead of addressing the problem, they state it plainly while asking vague and broad questions about the nature of the world. Rather than seeking a new system, they find ways to play into that system to ultimately get what they want in the short-term.
Echoing the stark sonic changes in the song, Mitch’s character is on a different page entirely. Taking note of Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, they are fixated on optimal stopping problems, seeking to maximize the reward of a great parking space and minimize the cost of distance from the front doors and time spent circling around holding out for a better spot in the Lowe’s parking lot. The syllables are so stiff and stressed at unnatural points in the last verse to exemplify how mechanical the whole process has been, where the character is in their head crunching data to guarantee satisfaction with the outcome instead of being present in the moment and that emotionally driven curiosity and impulse orchestrating the outcome.
This song was written around Eric’s bassline, which he’s been playing around with for years. He played it at band practice one day and we all loved it and immediately had ideas for other parts. It was the first song that we knew would definitely be on the album.
We wrote this song organically at band practice together one day. It was one of those songwriting experiences that blows your mind over and over and makes you feel incredibly lucky to have such well-matched collaborators. I recorded a voice memo of us playing (later renamed it “wow gorgeous jam”) and listened to this low-quality voice memo on repeat for days, literally bubbling up in bliss. I wrote the lyrics about my partner and bandmate Marco [Ocampo], for whom I keep a list of “Marco-isms,” his ever endearing botched colloquialisms that I hope he will never correct. “Smile of your back” was the first one I ever heard…now the list is very long.
7. “Blue Jazz”
In “Blue Jazz,” all three of our voices act as fragmented parts of one narrator. As the character in this song travels along a well-worn path, something on the periphery commands their attention. They mean to disregard this novelty as they continue onward, but find themselves with each stolen glance increasingly engulfed by quixotic daydreams that pull them toward this uncharted territory.
Alas, pragmatism contests, returning them back to their senses. As they resolve to course correct, they make a point to trod more carefully, leaving that which lies latent latent, yet struggle to quell the burning questions kept at arm’s length of what lies yonder and what could be. After the noise break, the narrator jumps into a monomaniacal fantastical lamentation, hyper-fixating on jewels as a stand-in for intangible desires.
By the end of the song, our protagonist’s affect is languid, lacking the more energetic voice from the beginning of the song that means to course correct, fully exhausted by the need to do so.
This song was by all means a wild card for the album. We’d played around with pieces of the song for a while and would sometimes wordlessly revert to them during practices, but we had put the pieces aside until very organically finishing the instrumentation about a week before we went into the studio. I had no words for the song, just an idea about the main part’s melody and the hocket vocals.
As we were tracking our songs in the first few days of recording, I was glued to my notebook, thinking aloud with the rest of the band, and then later spilling out silly phrases about time travel, capitalism, and our existence/evolution as a species. There are studies that suggest long-term memory in humans was caused by an ancient virus, which is referenced in the lyrics. I imagined a stand-alone room from which all realms and times could be accessed, and that’s essentially where I wrote from.
9. “Oh, David”
We had a demo of this song floating around for a while that we all loved, but we also had no idea what to do with it! Like, is this a song or an interlude? How is this going to evolve? It was such a bright, kind of cherry on top to the rest of the songs for the album, so we knew we were going to track it, but it was left totally open-ended.
The hocket backing vocals were improvised and arranged in the vocal booth between the three vocalists, taking turns laying down a hocket line. The lyrics are playfully authoritative, addressing a relationship whose power dynamic is so hyperbolized that it’s completely one-sided. The protagonist embodies the extreme form of being emotionally unavailable, but the hocket vocals sing another side to the story.
10. “Time Slips”
Mitch’s character in this song worries about how they spend their time, fearing their life is passing them by. They try to be more present and clutch the sands of time, but can’t stop the grains from slipping through their fingers. So they surrender to what is, and endeavor to let things play out as they will. They lament that no matter how much time they trade in to check off all the boxes and get all the things, they’ll never be happy.
Kristina’s character is asking larger questions about perception of time and the permanence of mortality, wondering things like, “How is mortality certain if people have to move backward through time to remember you after you’re gone?” And about how wooden objects, comprised of a previously living tree that has recorded and displays the passage of time around them, will have a new life with a beginning and an end that is somewhat separate from its previous one, but nevertheless informed by it.
Finally, I narrate the culmination of the song, a sort of giving in to being eaten away by time itself. My character seems a bit morbid, but has really just made peace with obsoletion and feels somewhat freed by it.
11. “Big Paws”
As we were writing this song, Kristina drew a parallel between the instrumentation and a conversation she’d had with her brother. They were driving around, having an argument for over an hour that basically resolved to the fact that they were both saying the same thing in a different way—something that they often experience as adults who were once kids together. There’s a feeling of two drivers in one car both fighting for the wheel, like growing up in the middle of the nowhere desert, taking turns pushing the Fisher Price car into obstacles while the other rides inside.
It made me think of my relationship with my childhood best friend and this one day that we went to a waterpark together. We stood in a really long line for probably an hour, all the while playing Slide Baby, in total synchronization as other people looked on—and we played well into the 60s (if you know the game, that takes a really, really long time).
Mitch’s character, hanging out in the environment Kristina and I set up, enjoys themselves at the waterpark and leaves with a souvenir of rose-colored glasses. They wish to see the rest of the world through this optimistic lens where even the red flags just look like flags, but find themselves in trouble when it comes to navigating, wondering whether red lights are really green, and questioning if they’re seeing things as they really are or just seeing things as they themselves are.
12. “Toy Wagon”
The song itself is very old—the oldest on the album, actually. It also represents the moment that Kristina joined Foyer Red. We’d asked her to do a guest vocal on the track, but when she sent us what she’d written it was so clear that we’d continue working together. I wrote the lyrics while thinking about Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, which is a book I love but I’ve always taken issue with the fact that (spoiler alert) its protagonist’s radical girlfriend is killed off and she ends up with a man who can ultimately “tame” her. It’s true that in “Toy Wagon” our protagonists don’t end up together either, but their love gets a second life in their reminiscing of it, and we get to live inside of that for a little while…and like the palominos they would ride, they will not be tamed.