Release date: Monday 4th February 2013
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost five years since Foals emerged, seemingly fully formed and already exceptionally talented, from the maelstrom of hype and hyperbole that crackled around their debut album Antidotes. The Oxford quintet quickly embraced change and showed considerable evolution on the follow-up, 2010′s exceptional Total Life Forever. It was on this album where they sought to expand the scope of their sound without sacrificing quality, and relieve themselves of the math-rock tag that had plagued them since Bevan, Simon and Philippakis toured as part of cult math-rock band The Edmund Fitzgerald.
One minute into album opener Prelude and it becomes apparent that Foals have yet again broadened the boundaries of their musical spectrum and further expanded the breadth of their vision. It’s an absolute gem of an opener, a slow-burning semi-instrumental (the distorted vocals only begin to emerge from the intricately layered guitar loops and resounding bass near the end of the track) that threatens to reach a euphoric climax before being peeled away to make room for lead single Inhaler. Inhaler‘s spirited grungy guitars merge with the pulsating bass before exploding in a crescendo of distortion come the chorus, whilst Philippakis’ confident vocal growls “Don’t throw your fortune away/ And I can’t get enough space!”
Vocally Philippakis sounds more self-assured than ever, and the fact that his lyrics are less esoteric and vague than on previous outings means it’s easier to pinpoint the key themes of Holy Fire: despair induced from loneliness (Moon‘s “birds fall out of the sky in two by twos”) and the desire for love and companionship (Milk & Black Spiders‘ “I’ve been around two times and found that you’re the only thing I need…”). These themes are embodied to some extent on the album’s artwork, which depicts the silhouetted image of a woman riding her horse out of the sea below a gorgeous yellow sunset.
My Number finds Foals at their most poppy to date, and comes as a refreshing break after the build-up of the opener and the muscle of the lead single. The ferocious energy and intensity of Providence will have you throwing yourself around your living room as a result of its bark and bite, whilst Milk & Black Spiders is the nearest thing to a love-song that Foals have ever written… The opening 100 seconds would not have sounded out-of-place on Radiohead‘s In Rainbows, but the song evolves into a wonderfully refined and layered paean to devotion. Moon is the Spanish Sahara of Holy Fire; the perfect album closer again finding Foals at their most transcendent.
Foals have wrought a gorgeous expansive beauty of an album that not only melds indie-rock with dance (amongst other genres) but that also blurs the fine line between music and art. Thankfully they’ve steered clear of the temptation to embrace formulaic sing-along choruses in an effort to court the large-scale arenas (I’m looking at you Courteeners), in the process staying true to themselves and their vision. That’s not to say that these tracks aren’t colossal or anthemic, but rather that the energy and euphoria ebbs and flows in nuanced waves of sound via the tempered guitars and intelligent flourishes provided by the Flood & Moulder production.
It’s not so much a change of direction as it is an affirmation of all the musical elements that ever made Foals great. The verdict? An early contender for the best album of 2013.
3. My Number
8. Milk & Black Spiders
3. My Number
4. Bad Habit
6. Late Night
7. Out Of The Woods
8. Milk & Black Spiders
This article was first posted on February 12, 2013