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I had a weird period in my relationship with music. I used to be so passionate about it. Whenever I could afford to and had someone who would share the experience, I would see loads of bands, some with support acts so obscure their own mothers hadn't heard of them, and fall in love with them rather than the headliners. I once feared for my life at Foo Fighters concert, but it was worth it because I got so close to Dave Grohl that he could have spat on me had the urge taken him - and he's Dave Grohl, so it would have been alright if he had.
Admittedly that did herald my mosh pit retirement (although Muse would inspire a brief return), but I never thought I would lose my obsession with finding new music. The excitement of hearing something that little bit special that hasn't been heard before. But I did. Life got in the way, I became obsessed with work, and my relationship with music faded somewhat.
Before this happened a band called Foals came along. They were pretty much right up my street - something a bit left of centre but dripping in quality.
Foals came to public awareness in 2008 with their first album, Antidotes. Supposedly they were a "math rock" band. To this day I still have been baffled by what that actually means, and as I suspect myself to be genuinely numerically dyslexic, I have not bothered to find out - until now. The things I do for you lot. Actually its not that scary and involves no long multiplication. Its a complex rhythm based form of music usually using guitars which features (and I quote this from wikipedia) "atypical" music combinations such as strange rhythms and stop-start sounding tracks and dissonant chords. Its basically experimental indie-style rock - and if Foals are owt to go by, its sort of a cross over between danceable club music and indie (see also Friendly Fires). I guess the basic theory is this: its shouldn't work, but it does.
Anyway, I digress. Basically Foals came along and I liked them and then I got distracted and lately I've been trying to get some new music in my life as I spend so much of it travelling and in a fit of unwise rebellion I gave in to my temptation to spend money the other day - the results were the latest Foals album and one by Fenech-Soler. Normally I have to buy CD albums as I like to possess something solid and enjoy the artwork of albums but I was in a fit of anger and frustration at pretty much everything and just wanted to indulge flippantly. Glastonbury was around the corner and I was sick at the thought of another summer with no festivals or gigs ahead. I was, in short, fed up. So itunes it was to be.
So what Foals have been up to in the meantime I don't know but this is my review of their third studio album, Holy Fire.
Foals formed in Oxford, in 2005. The members are Yannis Philippakis, Jack Bevan, Jimmy Smith, Walter Gervers and Edwin Congreave. They like to get their mates to do their videos and artwork, and their website is foals.co.uk.
The artwork is fitting - silhouetted figures of people riding horses bareback into the sea. I quite like it, and it would make a great arty poster. I wish I'd stuck to my principles and bought the CD version.
This is my first complete Foals album and my previous knowledge of them extended to their singles. To be honest, one of the main thing that strikes me about this album is that, despite their individual released being very good in the past, I think there is a degree of maturity about their experimentalism in this album. It charted at number 2 in the UK, which is pretty impressive for a decidedly indie outfit even now, but the reviews varied from the impressed to the ambivalent; some thought it a great work from the band, some considered it a boring offering by all accounts.
The album is available just shy of £9 in hard copy or at £5.99 for a download.
Many bands have an album with a track called "Prelude" and they're usually pretty short. This isn't, clocking it at over four minutes in duration. A steady, tentative, slightly haunting and gradually built layering of sound, with percussion, and what I can only in my ignorance describe as "electro noise stuff" combined with muffled vocals and then a building of the steady base drum rhythm. The track lifts and fades and is pretty interesting as background noise, becoming more intense and heavy in places and more lilting in others.
This was what made me realise there was a new album imminent - the release of Inhaler. A taut, tense intro, with Yannis contributing some pretty impressively malleable lyrical range and his distinctive sound. There is a darkness to this and the overall sound is fairly epic, particularly in the 'chorus'. It has an enticing little rhythm to it and the multi-faceted nature of it makes it a very intriguing track.
Reduced to watching Glastonbury on tv yet again, I noticed that the BBC were using a quick little titles sting with a swift grasp of a track that I couldn't place. Initially I placed it at the door of Bombay Bicycle Club but a but of Soundhounding (the sting was JUST long enough!) revealed I already had it on my as-yet-unlistened-to Holy Fire (Fenech Soler got more attention to start with).
That track was My Number. More dancey and light than Inhaler, I can see why it was chosen by the BBC bods. It has a real festival, summery sound to it despite the somewhat darker lyrics. The weird rhythms that Foals indulge in are present and it is something you really could dance to, if you're not too keen on standing around looking aloof and cool with a Magners. I love this track, again the rhythm hooks are irresistible.
This reminds me hugely of Temper Trap's album Conditions. The vocals aren't as commanding but the overall track doesn't lose anything because it has the same depth and layering of sound as the previous tracks. There's a period in it where there is more soulful input to the lyrics and it fades out to an emotive point before restarting and I have to say that in comparison to what some could argue is over-produced indie electro rock of other tracks, this stands out as having a bit more of an emotive quality with a more human connection the lyrics.
A taut intro to this track which you can just feel is going to build. There's again a bit more of a soulful sound to the lyrics and there's a real tension to the guitar, and then the song "proper" kicks off. This is a great track. I could envisage this being part of a film soundtrack, it has a real quality to it and again would be superb heard out in a field somewhere in summer. Backing vocals help give this a more balanced sound.
One thing about all the Foals singles I have known is that they're pretty fast-paced; the start to this is so slow and basic, with just a little background track with a wistful, soulful vocal. Then this builds with a subtle percussion and becomes more full-bodied but the tempo remains steady, the tone reflective. There's a plaintive longing in the lyrics and a real haunting quality to this track. It builds in intensity and the tempo gradually increases to illustrate the emotions and frustrations of the lyrics, overall I think this is a real stand out track dealing with the possibility of loss.
***OUT OF THE WOODS***
I'm sort of struggling with this one. It's perfectly good and in keeping with the album, upper-mid tempo and probably a great summer-evening-in-the-garden track and I can't quite put my finger on why because, in theory, it ticks all the boxes, but I don't think its a stand out track. Maybe because its too similar to great examples that have already been heard, maybe it doesn't have anything unique to say for itself that the previous tracks do. Still good and far from a low point on the album, but maybe lacking a little commitment and artistry of the rest for me.
***MILK AND BLACK SPIDERS***
Odd title, and being a bit anti-spider (okay, a lot), not one that inspires much confidence! There's something spiderlike about the basic track behind this as well - frenetic components to the track itself and then in contrast a distant, wistful vocal. Then there's the contrasting sections in which the vocals are accompanied by an entirely different, slightly tribal bass percussive sound. It's another oddity, and I think I quite like it. It has a lot of different aspects to it and keeps changing but overall there's a lot of skill and quality here.
More upbeat and disjointed here, for me a little too much so. So this is what Math Rock is...It might float some boats but for me this is too disjointed and when you hear a part of it that you like it's gone before you know it - I was never a jazz fan, either...
This is far more sedate and stripped-down and allows the vocals to take the lead. Its actually quite a relaxing and beautiful track, although nothing this band does is conventionally elegant. An unusual effort by a band known more for their complex and frenetic work.
As with the previous track, Foals are determined to end this album on a sedate note. To be honest, the closer isn't much to write home about in my opinion. Very basic, very sedate, very reflective and wistful.
I really do think that Foals are demonstrating some maturity in their sound here - the days of Hummer and similar tracks were by no means poor experimentalism but there is more depth here. I can't comment on past albums having not heard any in their entireity but the last two tracks are for me a bit of a let down; the album starts with such quality with Inhaler and My Number and there is more good music to be had throughout, and whilst I enjoyed Stepson, taken as an album as a whole it just leads into the rather dull and uninspiring conclusion with Moon. Trying to prove they are more than one-trick ponies? Who knows - and I didn't mean that as a pun, for the record.
But then you have Inhaler, and My Number, which are so irresistibly catchy and seductive. I love them both despite their quite significant differences. There's real skill, talent and thought on show here.
I really like this album and I'm glad I got it because there are tracks on here such as Milk And Black Spiders and Late Night that I wouldn't have heard had I not bought it. I wouldn't say it is my favourite album of the year and the band's sound is undeniably unique, full of its own confidence and certainly wouldn't be to everyone's liking. However, whilst the last track and maybe a couple elsewhere don't really give my personal boat a whole load to float on, there are some great tracks on here and very suitable for summer they are too. It's not making me frantically check Ticketmaster for tour details, but its not a regretful purchase by a long chalk. Possibly the very clever, multi-layered sound and all the work and thought and technology that goes behind this clever approach to music creates a rather aloof sound that is hard to empathise with and take personally, but without that you wouldn't have the tracks that you get which are so good. Call it a compromise, and a pretty damn good one.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
3 My Number
4 Bad Habit
6 Late Night
7 Out Of The Woods
8 Milk & Black Spiders