THE PROBLEM WITH REACHING THE PEAK
Those who were there during the atmospheric drizzling cinematic moment that was the first Laneway Festival in Singapore, and Foals’ live rendition of ‘Spanish Sahara’, had probably experienced the peak of the band. Their sophomore Total Life Forever did the opposite of the mythical ‘sophomore slump’, the album elevated the band above their previously (slightly on the side of) generic dance punk debut Antidotes. The new, at the time, Foals were concerned with epic post rock arrangements and goose bumps-inducing crescendos – it worked spectacularly, Total Life Forever was one of our favourite albums of 2010.
Come 2013, with new record Holy Fire in hand, that provided them with an interesting conundrum. They’ve established a workable formula that got them accolades – although sadly not on the same level as false prophets Alt-J – so should they deviate from their sophomore’s sound, they’d risk alienating their audience. Should they follow the same template, they’d risk a loss of quality – as the act of repeating/cloning/facsimileing tends to be. The problem with reaching the peak, it seems, is that there’s no where else to go but down.
Luckily for the band, their descent down the mountain proves to be a slow one. Holy Fire is a good album despite the band faux pas of releasing a somewhat confused track as its single. ‘Inhaler’ is a weird mix of punk and funk rhythms that owe itself more to Morello’s Rage Against the Machine riffs than we’d like to believe, but here it’s more Audioslave, had the band sucked less. Just as the track ends, the album shifts gear to Talking Heads-era disco punk sensibilities with ‘My Number’, which is surprisingly not a misstep. We guess we just dig corny choruses (“You don’t need my number”) over a catchy beat. It helps that the track is more representative of the rest of the album.
Yannis Philippakis sounds his Total Life Forever best on ‘Late Night’, which showcases the band trying to channel a ‘Spanish Sahara’ moment. Yannis’ vocals soar moodily over a slowly crescendoing beat, but it’s a little subtler, almost as if it wanted to go bigger but decided against it just in case it failed to evoke the aforementioned track. It’s unintentional, but there’s a breaking of the fourth wall in his plead for someone to “stay with me,” as if he’s directly addressing the audience to be patient with this phase of their career. In fact, you’d only need to stay long enough to get to the end track to be rewarded with a genuinely goose bump-inducing closer; ‘Moon’.
By the end of the album, you’d realise what the band was going for when they made the record. There’s more dance punk trappings on Holy Fire compared to Total Life Forever, yet Foals hasn’t strayed from the ambition of that album. To make an assumption, their direction now is to revisit both records and see what sticks, and to make a conclusion; it seems like everything stuck. This proves to be both positive and negative. When they regress to their Antidotes roots (effects-laden clanky dance punk rhythms), they rise above it, and when they opt for their cinematic post rock inclinations, they succeed reasonably well. In the end there’s really not much wrong with the album other than its being not as good as Total Life Forever.
LISTEN TO: ‘Moon’, ‘Late Night’, ‘Bad Habit’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: Trophy Wife, The Maccabees, Bombay Bicycle Club
3. MY NUMBER
4. BAD HABIT
6. LATE NIGHT
7. OUT OF THE WOODS
8. MILK & BLACK SPIDERS