Release Date: Feb 12, 2013
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
On their 2008 debut, this Oxford, England, quintet recorded with TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek and came up with an album of frenetic, glitched-out Brit pop. Two records later they're still expanding and ironing out that sound. Yannis Philippakis sounds like the Anglo-cized version of My Morning Jacket's Jim James as he sets his echo-laden yelp over burbling Talking Heads grooves and plasticine art-rock textures.
Let’s play a game of word association. Think of Foals and what comes to mind? Artsy, difficult, oblique, precocious, intelligent, volatile, mathletic. The Oxford group’s albums to date – 2008’s ‘Antidotes’ and 2010’s ‘Total Life Forever’ – are easily among the most innovative and intriguing British rock records of the last half-decade.
The evolution of Foals has been fascinating to watch. Crashing into our lives six years ago with clattering math-rock gems like Hummer and Balloon, their debut album Antidotes didn’t quite live up to the hype. Two years later, the follow up Total Life Forever marked a totally different sound (and one of the tracks of the year in Spanish Sahara) but there was still something missing that stopped Foals from completely fulfilling their early promise.
For a band who represent the antithesis of British indie’s lad rock heritage, Foals have always boasted ludicrous reserves of self-confidence. On their debut album, they dispensed with one of music’s most-lauded producers in Dave Sitek to release their own mix of the underwhelming Antidotes. The comeback single for its follow-up was ‘Spanish Sahara’, a six-minute churn of glacial angst which decimated any lingering hopes of a return to math rock.
Once you’ve attained a certain amount of attention and acclaim, expectations become rife. Because of this, established artists have to defend themselves from two contradicting assumptions that music critics hold very dear. Firstly, that possessing a back catalogue that is static and free from any kind of artistic exploration is tantamount to blasphemy.
Holy Fire opens with a sense of gravity. A low buzz and a pattering in the distance draft images of cavernous space before the guitar even shimmers into existence. And then it builds, each new instrument stoking the fire. This rings true throughout the album. Holy Fire reveals a band adept at ….
While there are lots of bands dealing in either danceable rock or navel-gazing pop, few bands combine the two quite like Foals. On Holy Fire, the third album from the English band, the post-punk revival is given a newfound sense of depth, creating songs that are rhythmic enough to draw listeners, but hypnotic enough to leave listeners lost in their wide-open spaces. This combination of atmosphere and momentum find Foals growing out of the shadows of titans like the Talking Heads and into a spaced-out, dance-punk niche that's all their own.
It's tempting to look at the third album by Foals as the opening exhibit in the case for the great guitar comeback of 2013. After all, here's a guitar band a long way from the ladrock landfill, who have been professing their love of pop in the buildup to the release of Holy Fire. What's more, there's clearly untapped commercial potential. While their debut album – 2008's scratchy and underpowered but at times exhilarating Antidotes – reached No 3 in the charts, its successor, Total Life Forever – more expansive, but sometimes failing to match its mood with actual melodies – managed only No 8 in 2010.
With Antidotes, their 2008 debut, Oxford quintet Foals announced that yes, here they were, another one of those distinctively British indie bands, the kind that specialize in high-energy, thick-accented dance punk (see: Bloc Party). But on their sophomore release, 2010’s Total Life Forever, Foals began to come into their own. They learned, for the most part, how to synthesize their frenetic impulses into more cogent song structures, and their music started to sound like it belonged more to Foals than to any of the number of genres or subgenres that had previously been used to define their sound.
Holy Fire is a good record for a bad day. From the opening silence of “Prelude” to the ballad-groove of “Late Night” to the empty spaces of “Moon,” this, the third album from Foals, distills a feeling of loneliness and aggression with a slinky, seductive twist. This is not, however, how Foals made their bank. The band first hit the charts as a punchy, math-rock band that mixed herky-jerky guitar scratches with cut-up lyrics along fatalist lines.
For nearly two minutes, "Inhaler" does not sound like the triumphant return of one of Britain's most successful modern bands. In fact, it sounds claustrophobic-- hookless, even. During what feels like the chorus, Yannis Philippakis can't quite get hold of a melody that sounds like it might never resolve. All the while, he's being cramped by increasing amounts of reverb.
Review Summary: "I can't get enough... SPACE!" As I began my first listen through Holy Fire, I asked myself how possible it was for Foals to create another masterpiece. Initially, I wondered if it maybe was the wrong way to go about it all, me expecting something just as colossal as 2010’s Total Life Forever. However, it’s futile to downplay this reaction, isn’t it? When an artist’s creation far surpasses expectations, it’s reasonable enough for the spectators at hand to expect more in the future, and to give the respective artist more of a chance.
FoalsHoly Fire[Transgressive; 2013]By Brendan Frank; February 12, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetThe opening moments of Holy Fire are nothing like those of Foals’ earlier works. The febrile swagger remains, but within is something much darker, tenser, and unsettling. Its as if “Prelude” is trying to erase Total Life Forever from your memory.
Decay and growth, rotting bones as prospective percussion instruments, and chain gang music aren’t the first things that come to mind when a British indie rock band’s new album is announced. Yet a recent interview with Foals front man Yannis Philippakis cites these things—and many more—as shaping the quintet’s third album, Holy Fire. Even if it weren’t for such intriguing inspirations, Foals would still have a lot to live up to.
Somehow, "clever" Alt-J have ended up with a Mercury prize while contrary, passionate Foals find themselves on their third album, trying to sound big rather than clever. The producers tasked with reaching the back of the arena are Flood and Alan Moulder, famed tailors of extra-large moodiness for stadium clients like Smashing Pumpkins. On Inhaler, the Oxford five-piece grab some juddering low-end from heavy rock, while the ambitious 80s pop of My Number boasts a nagging eastern-tinged guitar motif.
Foals’ 2010 album, Total Life Forever, was a gorgeous bit of marine-themed pop, taking as much inspiration from the placid rhythms of the sea as the lean post-punk that informed the band’s previous work. Considering its long gestation period, Holy Fire seemed poised to offer some conceptual tweaking of the band’s sound. Which is why it’s a little disappointing to wade into the album, past the fuzzy, throat-clearing emptiness of opener “Prelude,” and find a lead single like “Inhaler,” a roaring burst of nothing, which crosses the group’s familiar finger-tapped guitar aesthetic with the cheeseball theatrics of an act like Muse.
For a band exalted by the ravenous British music press, Oxford quintet Foals continue to push the indie rock envelope to a surprising degree. Rather than fit into any particular fad, they’ve confidently pushed off on their own direction. When math rock was a passing joke in the indie world, they pumped it through the dance floor almost unnoticed. When TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek was the in demand producer (not to say many indie bands would push him out of the studio today), the band chose to ditch his mix of their debut album and remaster Antidotes themselves.
It could just be a small jab at the musical trappings that talented musicians find themselves in after outgrowing their humble beginnings, but once a progressive band leaves behind playing smoke drenched dive bars for deafening arenas, why do they always have to adopt some obnoxious album art? The cover of Holy Firehas a group of people of riding horses into the ocean at sunset. Epic, to say the least. Along with the others that fell victim to the ploy of progressive rock album art, Foals' latest record falls short of their depiction of an epic sunset.
"I made my mistakes, and I feel something's changed / Wash the stains away, and I feel quite OK" – 'Bad Habit' What will the end of everything feel like? Will it be a split-second drop? A white-hot infinity? Or will it be a pale, slow release; a relief that, only at the instant we're subsumed, do we recognise as something we've long been longing for? 'Moon', the final track on Foals' Holy Fire, gives us a vision of the latter. Spare, diaphanous and almost dizzy with its own levity, it foresees a final unravelling not unlike that imagined by Lars von Trier in his 2011 film Melancholia: in a faint, lullabying delivery, frontman Yannis Philippakis observes the apocalypse not as some biblical inferno but as a series of friezes; a nearly reverent surrender in the face of something that's actually kind of comforting in its indifference. It's this lightheadedness – a sort of woozy awe effected by pared instrumentation and producers Flood and Alan Moulder's aerated, translucent atmospheres – that dominates the Oxford five-piece's third album.
The Oxford outfit finally evolves a sound to suit its mainstream status. Mike Diver 2013 Foals’ moniker made perfect sense in the mid-00s. Their early singles were spindly affairs, capable of kicking out but occasionally awkward of movement. The Oxford five-piece swiftly suffered restrictive pigeonholing: “math-rockers” never had much of a chart-busting ring to it.
What’s a telltale sign that a young British band thinks they’re hot shit? When they open their album with an instrumental. Perception seldom ever comports with reality; the Charlatans UK attempted this on their swaggering self-titled fourth album (1995) to indicate that indeed “we have arrived!” But it was easily their weakest record to that point, reeking of commercial grasping and blatant Exile on Main Street (1972)-era Stones rip-offs. And don’t even get me started on Second Coming (1995).
When a band releases a single ahead of an anticipated album, it should clue you in on what that album will sound like or at least work as an introduction. When Foals released the propulsive “Inhaler” at the tail end of 2012, it sounded alien for the five-some. Behind a repeating guitar riff and a chunky bassline, singer Yannis Philippakis works his usual whisper into a frenzy, and by the time the chorus kicks in, it’s a full-on scream, a sound that his bandmates rise up to meet, more like a fireball exploding than a rock band from Oxford.