Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Foals - Holy Fire

Providence, the ninth track on Oxford band Foals’ third album ‘Holy Fire’, marks a key moment on the record.  It’s a track that clearly harks back to their 2008 debut ‘Antidotes’, with obvious shades of lead single Cassius in its crunchy guitars and jerky rhythms.  Equally it’s a track that shows how far the band have come over the last few years, with richer instrumentation and textures, their sound expanding considerably with each record as bigger stadium performances beckon.

Where ‘Antidotes’ and the Mercury nominated ‘Total Life Forever’ are (arguably) fairly single-minded in their overall mood, ‘Holy Fire’ is a more multi-faceted album.  Inhaler was the first single released, roaring onto the airwaves in a blaze of awesome riffage.  The heavier feel is something of a departure for the band, though it does retain and develop their propensity for funk grooves, particularly in the syncopated basslines.  This continues with My Number: undoubtedly Foals’ most accessible track yet that will, deservedly, bring their music to a more mainstream audience.  Similarly, rock ballad Bad Habit is an immediate hit with a sublime chorus.  Later on the album comes Out Of The Woods, which has an almost Fleetwood Mac feel to it (Dreams especially), the autoharp and marimba adding a folky sense of ethereal mystery that’s a step on from Spanish Sahara on ‘Total Life Forever’.  Furthermore, Spanish Sahara has provided the basis for much of the album, in particular with the slowly developing Milk & Black Spiders and Stepson.  Rounding off the album is final track Moon that provides a meditative stillness juxtaposed with the preceding tracks, all guitar harmonics and evocative effects that shimmer with celestial serenity.

Unsurprisingly, album opener Prelude summarises this varied creativity – a largely instrumental track that rocks as much as it slowly blooms and unfurls.  Yet through it all, ‘Holy Fire’ still sounds unmistakably like a Foals album.  The band have distilled their sound and applied it to previously unexplored musical territory.  This is a band willing to branch out, whilst remaining grounded in their own identity. 

In between these obvious highlights, Foals settle into a midtempo groove.  The remaining tracks are far from unaccomplished, but they lack the same personality and distinction.  Part of this is to do with frontman Yannis Philippakis’s vocal often being lower in the mix than usual, overpowered by the guitars, and used predominantly as simply another line within the overall textures.  No doubt a conscious decision, this works fine for a texture-focused track like Moon, but the likes of Everytime and Late Night lack the immediacy of the album’s better tracks and are diminished to filler.

Thankfully, the good far outweighs the not-so-good on ‘Holy Fire’.  Foals have grown into one of the UK’s most preeminent rock bands and for good reason.  ‘Holy Fire’ is an incredibly accomplished album that sees the band at the top of their game, an album that will appease old fans as well as draw in some new ones.  Featuring some of the band’s best work to date (besides Spanish Sahara), this album proves that when Foals hit their peak the results are pretty damn special.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Inhaler
* My Number
* Moon

Listen: 'Holy Fire' is available now.

Watch: Foals are playing a series of sold out shows in March.