Foals may not strike the average listener as a band suited to the lavish environment of the larger arenas but the path they have travelled to get to the release of Holy Fire suggests differently. Arching beautifully from debut album Antidotes, we saw them at their most twitchy and experimental but nonetheless guitar-centric. Follow-up Total Life Forever planed some of the rough edges, exposing a slightly more digestible sound and scored them their definitive track with the NME Best Single-winning ‘Spanish Sahara’. It was as if their initial approach had been inflated, making it more encompassing of the different elements at work in the band; vocals, guitars, bass and percussion fused into one epic whole.
Starting their campaign with releases of ‘Inhaler’ and ‘My Number’ proved a deft move on the band’s part as they represent the juxtaposed sides of the Foals coin. The former is the lyrical equivalent of a dog fight. the “black, unfathomable rage” that Yannis Phillippakis has alluded to previously now bare to the world. His howls of disenchantment have never carried as much angst as when rasped through the musical tidal wave this song creates. Beginning with a thick funk melody before crashing into a solid, juggernaut rock riff in the chorus it is destined to become the key stone of their live set from here on in.
‘My Number’ carries the same sense of belligerence but in a more positive fashion. Throwing off cultural artifice and boasting confidence in a more intimate connection – “so people of the city…I don’t need your good advice/ cause you don’t have my lover’s touch” – it is perhaps their most pop moment to date yet still calculated and informed lyrically. Whereas ‘Inhaler’ wanders further down the dark avenue that opens with ‘Spanish Sahara’, this skips through the same sun-dappled land Total Life Forever did to a more commercially viable destination.
Lending personal inflection to their music is nothing alien to the band but the catharsis here is more omnipresent than before. ‘Late Night’ and ‘Out Of The Woods’ show the singer lay his soul bare, and while not providing stand out tracks, at least demonstrate that a band can be emotionally viable without sounding trite. Other elements of the down-tempo tracks falter slightly: ‘Stepson’ is a tad too emotionally wrought and literal to fit neatly amidst the rest of the album’s inventive lyrical and musical style.
Skillfully composed and never short of innovative, Foals’ third is the first future-classic of 2013. With a year that will no doubt see many festival slots and headline gigs – though expect to see their name in a larger font size than before -they have begun the year by setting the bar high enough so that by the time December rolls around Holy Fire will still be burning bright in the memory.