Foals are a band who have been defined by evolving and expanding on their sound. Over three albums they have developed from a math-rock inspired indie dance group to incorporate everything from post-rock, blues and good old fashioned pop to their sound.
Their debut 'Antidotes' was a package of jagged, high-pitched guitar lines, off kilter rhythms and parping horns. It had some fantastic hooks and brought around some explosive live sets, even if it verged on the repetitive at times. 'Total Life Forever' brought a huge change in their sound with longer, more dreamy music with diverse textures and liberal use of delay. This album remains their best in my opinion, largely down to how tight and well crafted the album is, feeling like one long piece of art rather than 11 separate tracks. This was not case with the follow-up 'Holy Fire' which was a lot more scatter gun in its approach. It was less cohesive and a bit muddled at times but featured their biggest choruses and catchiest hooks in songs such as 'Inhaler' and 'My Number'. This new album has teased as the heaviest album by the band in its pre-release build-up. Frontman Yannis spoke at length about the animalistic side of the album and the raw lyrics we could expect from it. So, how does it stack up?
What Went Down
The lead single off the album gets it off to an electrifying start. The guitars blare and feel suitably raucous as this is probably the most conventional rock song Foals have written. The vocals yelp, the keys hover ominously, culminating in a song which takes glee it is pure visceral nature. Most importantly though the chorus kicks you in the face and sounds huge, like Yannis is trying to control a hurricane. The longer the songs goes on the more out of control it gets, and all for the better. 10/10 for 'shoutability'.
Mountain At My Gates
By far the most radio-friendly song on the album. Credit where it is due though, it is as catchy as the plague. This one seems designed with playing festivals in mind, and is as close as the album gets to a sing-along moment. However it does feel like it should be played during a 'Made In Chelsea' montage with the bland lyrics not helping the bands cause.
Starts off with a chord sequence that sounds exactly like one from the previous song, it's then followed up by the most 'Foals' guitar riff ever. This one is perfectly fine, nothing too objectionable or noticeable happening throughout its run time, falling squarely in the 'album track' category. It is unfortunate then that the songs that follow this are below-par.
Give It All
There is only one word that can adequately describe Give It All; bland. Nothing at all happens. Yannis voice seems to be straining so hard in an attempt to sound meaningful and the backing vocals that make up the crescendo are painfully uninspired. In a song where the vocals are the emphasis of the track the singing, melody and lyrics need to be better than they are here. The reoccurring 'give me the thing but not the other thing' motif is like something straight out of GCSE poetry.
There is nothing worse than a song that's entire run-time is a build-up to something that never happens. Everytime I listen to this one I always get suckered into thinking that there will be an amazing pay-off at the end. There never is. The melody is decent and the drumming in particular sounds promising but is ultimately inconsequential. It's a shame because there is a good song somewhere in this one.
Wow, what happened here? Foals clearly thought 'let's make another heavy one' aware that most the album was quite dreary. Unfortunately as hard as the band try, the song doesn't feel heavy because the instruments are so compressed. The vocals are cringeworthy, the lyrics are uninspired with the lo-fi filter on his voice doing to make it sound more 'raw'. The key though to why this song is such a failure is that there is no central melody, guitar line or riff that is at all memorable. I bet it's good live though.
Out of nowhere a good song comes along. After me criticising Yannis' vocal performances in the past songs he does a great job on this one. The lyrics are still quite average but there is a catchy melody and the vocal effects used actually add to the dreamy feel of the track. Foals are back to their best as a unit here, with the guitars shimmering and bouncing off each other and the bass forcing the song forward and giving it direction. It is no great departure for the band but it does serve as a timely reminder of how well the members bounce off each other musically.
The blues influence that runs through the band is at its most prevalent here. However I find that Foals are at their best where they are being energetic, as making Yannis' voice and lyrics the focal point does not highlight the bands strengths. London Thunder is also the best example of the weird sensation of Foals sounding like Arctic Monkeys on this album, with this track in particular sounding like a deep-cut of AM (an album in which I am alone in disliking). This saps the energy straight out of the album.
Classic penultimate track filler. Yannis is at his absolute worst here, with the terrible opening line "It's a new day, just in time for me to say I'm sorry", whilst forcing out the lower registers in his vocal range. Apart from that the song is fine, but given the mediocrity of the album up to this point it needed something better than fine to make this a good album. This did not deliver that.
A Knife In The Ocean
This is a pretty good closing track, with a brilliant central hook and just a touch brooding tension. The drums in particular are fantastic, propelling the song along and clearly dividing the different sections up. The ocean of wailing guitars and keys as the song progresses makes you feel like you're in a cavern full reverberating sound. The only problem I have with the song is that the actual chorus doesn't feel nearly loud enough. Where as the title-tracks chorus went straight for the jugular, here the mixing doesn't work in the songs favour. Much like the rest of album, the song leaves me feeling frustrated about what might have been.
As you can probably tell by this point 'What Went Down' has not impressed me. Despite the good moments there is just way too much filler on this album, the final product feels almost rushed. Where the band changed up their sound between the first three albums they seemed to be stagnating here with some of their least memorable and creative material to date. All the pre-release hype seems to have been a red herring.