The immediacy with which Foals‘ new album starts, a yelp of “I buried my heart in a hole in the ground”, is such a statement of intent from the band that only a fool could ignore it. ‘What Went Down’ is a frantic, driving, surging opening salvo and the unmistakable voice of Yannis Philippakis is right there at it’s unnerving best; Foals mean business with this album. It’s so good to have them back, and in form like this…
‘Mountain At My Gates’ is a slightly less forthright entity, instead it kind of shuffles into life with brittle Vampire Weekened-style guitars. Once again the vocals are the center-piece and before the rhythm of the track lulls you into a false sense of security the inevitable crunch of guitars falls on you, hard. All cliché aside, producer James Ford has succinctly managed to capture the dynamic force of Foals’ live performances and blend it into some deft arrangements. So far this is Foals’ most direct, most intriguing work to date.
‘Birch Tree’ sounds like a grown-up version of what The 1975 might be like if Chris Martin started writing their hooks. Philippakis is at his languid best for once yet the song almost houses guitar-led dance rhythms – a la Talking Heads. ‘Give it All’ is a pivot point on the album and its introspective theme of regret, remorse and distance gives it the perfect amount of pathos. It’s a festival epic in the making. Florence Welsh herself would be proud of the marching drums, soaring, airy melody and other-worldly choral refrains. It might not lift, exactly, but has the legs to if it wants. Kind of like Shakespeare writing his plays to be watched and never read, sometimes you get the impression that some songs were only written to be performed live.
What the first half of the album has in sheer power, the second half has in it’s swerving, meandering melodic thrusts. ‘Snake Oil’, admittedly not the strongest point in the work, is slightly shown up by the album’s opening tracks. Such is the quality of the opening half that anything even remotely beneath that standard appears in profile. Similarly ‘Night Swimmers’ gives us more of the guitars for which Foals are renowned, it’s just slightly lacking in depth. But we’re nit-picking here. This is arguably the most complete album that the Oxford band have made to date. ‘London Thunder’, the only verifiable ballad on What Went Down, will remind you of Gary Jules’ ‘Mad World’ in its production but it’s a lovely respite before the album finishes with a seven-minute display of anguish and emotion in ‘A Knife in the Ocean’.
So Foals are back. And even if the teasers and snippets they’ve been feeding us all year gave us a slightly lop-sided indication of what was coming, they’ve come up with the goods and no mistake. The album is thematically diverse and powerful enough to leave a mark. There are highlights and lowlights but it’s a killer of an album and already an instant classic.