Release Date: Aug 28, 2015
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Some bands shoot to the top, achieving headliner status before they’ve even had a chance to take stock. Others struggle for years before finally getting their breakthrough. With Foals, they’ve seen it coming from a mile off. Every record an affirmation of their big-time potential, they’ve only taken steps in the right direction.
Such is the height of secrecy surrounding Foals’ fourth album, probably in an attempt to head off Captain Jack Sparrow, Long John Silver and other piratey scoundrels, it’s been distributed for appraisal under the name of something completely different – Perky Birds. And with 2013’s Holy Fire becoming the band’s second Mercury Prize nominated collection, there are huge expectations that a bounty of treasure is about to be revealed which must be kept away from those thar pirates; hotly anticipated is the understatement of the year. Taking just two months in France to record, frontman Yannis Philippakis has stated that the new record has been the easiest and quickest to lay down; heading directly into the studio following the Holy Fire tour, Philippakis claims the impetus from the live shows carries over to the new tracks.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Maturity, we all go through it. And guess what, bands do as well with some fairly varying effects. It hardly seems that long ago Foals were the poster boys for the Skins generation, slowly leading the youth out of the day-glo musical revolution and into some calmer, chilled-out seas while still having a whole load of fun doing it.
U.K. art rockers Foals specialize in arena-size intricacy — anthemic art pop rich with detailed guitar churn, latticed beats and luminous electronics. Their fourth and best album plays up a dark, bracing urgency, especially on the explosive title track, where Yannis Philippakis hollers over low-slung, fuzzed-out riffing and high-octane drum pummel.
Chances are that when you first heard the lead single (and title track) from Foals’ fourth album you nearly fell off your chair in sheer, blinded excitement. This, surely, was it: the crystallising moment that Foals made the step up to the big leagues, swatting the vapid, uninspiring likes of Mumford & Sons and Kasabian to the side and fulfilling their reservation at the top table of British guitar music. ‘What Went Down’ destroyed the ears of headphone users, summoned Christmas morning levels of excitement within the hearts of Foals’ fervent moshing club, and sent tremors across the indie world in a manner not seen since… well, when they unveiled the similarly-mammoth ‘Inhaler’ as the first single from their 2013 record Holy Fire.
The suggestively titled What Went Down, by English rockers Foals, comes in the wake of a massive touring cycle for their previous album, Holy Fire, and much needed downtime in the French countryside, where the band began concocting fresh music. On their latest album, Foals have learned how to balance ferocity with strikingly mature themes, lead singer Yannis Philippakis' vocals oscillating between sweet melody and raw emotion. He has spoken of taken lyrical inspiration from Nick Cave, which is evidenced by some of the darker themes explored on the record.
After the international chart success of 2013's Holy Fire, Foals officially embrace that album's rich, atmospheric post-punk revivalism over the rawer math rock tendencies of earlier LPs for their fourth full-length, What Went Down. Only ghostly traces of math rock remain on the album, such as when sustained synths wash over interlocking drum-guitar meters on the closer, "A Knife in the Ocean." The majority of the record avoids any prior levels of intricacy, opting instead for intense airiness in the form of passionate, danceable ruminations. Above all, the album is driving; even at relatively sleepier moments, drums kick in as if on cue and set any lost momentum back on track ("Give It All").
Like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining had it rocked, Foals are a band of gruesome beauty. For their 2013 third album ‘Holy Fire’ they boiled clean and battered cow bones for percussion on an album both relentlessly funky and, by Yannis Philippakis’ own admission, “stinky” of groove. That record felt like having a rave in a huge vat of marshmallow; gorgeous and enveloping, but with moments like ‘My Number’ and ‘Inhaler’ to cling on to.For ‘What Went Down’, written in their Oxford “stinkbox”, they have found their fulcrum.
Unlike Foals’ two previous albums, What Went Down does not require a drawn-out introduction to explain its intentions. "Blue Blood" captured the surprising progression of Total Life Forever in miniature, slowly evolving from the pinging, prickly riffs that defined Antidotes to a cloudbursting crescendo. By 2013's Holy Fire, Foals were a legitimate arena act and acted like they've been there before, hence, the four-minute, crowd-stoking "Prelude".
It's pretty much a given by now that Foals are the leading arena-rock band of the indie-rock era. With 2008's Antidotes, they started out as a niche interest—a precise and calculated math-rock band. Total Life Forever injected some emotion into their sound, particularly on "Spanish Sahara," a masterclass in slow-build. By Holy Fire, though, it seems Foals had learned something: they are damn good at just rocking this shit out.
Since their tricksier, punk-funk party days, Foals have beefed up a great deal, amassing festival headline slots and a reputation for swirling emotional heft. Their fourth effort strives to retain the band’s considerable rhythmic nous while further amplifying the bombast. What results is partially successful – the pace and punch of the title track, for instance, with its nagging sneer of a chorus, the sense that producer James Ford has tweaked Foals’ ratio of riffs-to-electronics very nicely on tracks like Birch Tree – and partially not.
Delving inside Yannis Philippakis’s mind has never felt particularly pleasant. The Foals frontman, with his press-photo scowl and reputation for lancing sharp words at other musicians, has poured the anguish of insecurity and self-loathing into the confessional second album Total Life Forever and its 2013 follow-up, Holy Fire. On this latest effort, the band complete their transformation from more rugged Alt-J, all twitchy math-rock and clattering percussion – still found on Albatross – to meaty stadium rock act.
Since the release of 2013’s Holy Fire, Foals have been immersed in the creation of their fourth full-length, What Went Down. Holy Fire saw Foals become a band that could, and did, open for Metallica, gutting rock with sheer determination to spill its hidden funk and stoner rock innards. In an interview with NME, frontman Yannis Philippakis said the band aspired to up that intensity by capturing the madness of Van Gogh, a reference to the village they recorded in and its psychiatric ward that once held Van Gogh after he infamously cut off his ear.
Ever since 2010’s Total Life Forever, just the group’s second album, British art-rock band Foals have endured feverish accusations of having sold out by a certain fringe element in their fanbase. Their first album, the widely-acclaimed Antidotes, played with musical form in a way the band hasn’t since, so much so that they were initially labelled a math-rock band. It’s not hard to see why some listeners became attached; the album’s erratic, punchy rhythms, dense layers of interlaced guitar riffs and hyperactive drums were just distinctive enough to ensure that any shift toward the center—indie rock’s mainstream—would inevitably be met with some hostility.
Great bands adhere to the principals of a type of musical Darwinism: they adapt, they develop, they evolve. Like their successful animal-world counterparts, the key to their longevity is steady and gradual progression from epoch to epoch. Or — in the case of artists — from album to album. Since their genesis in the mid-noughties, Foals have shrewdly observed these key Darwinian principles.
Where we’ve arrived at with What Went Down has, in hindsight, loomed on the horizon ever since Foals abandoned their schoolroom stenciled motif of their 2008 debut, Antidotes, for the simple, yet brash, Impact-leaning type that has emblazoned each album since. Interestingly, Foals’ album titling logo has also been removable since 2010’s Total Life Forever, as a sticker on the cover or part of the album’s exterior wrapping. It’s as if to say, “HERE IS A FOALS ALBUM” once, so you notice it, then never again because you’ll never forget it.