Foals – Holy Fire

Albums / Words

12 Feb 13

‘Prelude’’s big spaces no doubt act as a plateau for the band’s shtick: Foals are still intellectual musicians, but this time with an agenda musical, canonical and inter-personal.

Holy Fire initiates the fun with ‘inhaler’ and ‘My Number’, as guitar still shuffles and signs of first-album percussion tease the track’s ballistic moments. Thematically the ever-present sense of distance avails, but soon after, this record finds something new in heartbreak. ‘Bad Habit’ almost begs for a return, ‘I’ve made my mistakes – I feel something’s changed’, and similarly ‘Everytime’ carries a Blessing Force (Trophy Wife, Jonquil, Rhosyn, Chad Valley) tonation together with over-wrought lyricisms which, when produced with an 1980s buoyancy, seem unusually velvety for Foals, quite possibly hit at by friend and collaborator Hugo Manuel of Chad Valley.

I’m not sure if these proclamations are always earnest, or at times purely stylish, but the album’s latter tracks finalise a raw cognitive turn for Foals: ‘Milk And Black Spiders’ and ‘Providence’ transfer to a denser, less pop-infused musical terrain, as throbs of embryonic bass excel clashing percussion, whilst still nudging toward this thematic wariness, a surprising display of usurpation for a band who have always seemed coy, evasive and aloof.

‘Providence’ closes with the most joyously illiterate syncopated beats the band has achieved to date; utter showmanship and artistry abounds in droves.

There’s something thicker, more humane available here than in stylish but dissonant Total Life Forever which makes a fool of any style without substance perceptions, as Holy Fire casually unveils territory as yet untouched by the Foals oeuvre: taking an axe to their own front doors, specific sensibilities are fore fronted, often lyrically, and these parcels lay like daggers amongst the usual adornments of a Foals record: the rough, the highly produced and the show-y.

Attending the release of Foals’ latest instalment of reverberant indie pop is a greater-than-usual hope that it’s a real winner. You just sense that, for whatever reason, British music really needs this one.

If 2010’s quiet triumph Total Life Forever was about self-discipline after the euphoric early years, then Holy Fire is everything promised on the proverbial tin: self-righteous letting loose.

From the balls-out swagger of opening salvo ‘Prelude’ to the intergalactic, Muse-esque histrionics of ‘Providence’, everything just scaled up. In disco-ready anthem ‘Everytime’, we even have a synthy behemoth with might have satisfied the late Robin Gibb.

Indeed – crucially – Holy Fire is Foals’ first overt bid at conquering both the clubs and the alternative festival stages. The oriental flavours of ‘My Number’ and ‘Out of the Woods’ are demonstrative of a single record’s attempt to avail itself of a veritable sonic empire.

If there’s a fault, it’s that the motherland gets occasionally neglected: those trademark strobey loops and the subtle shades they add are perhaps only saved from being blown away by the typically conscientious production.

But this is the sound of a band in pomp: wherein a guitar riff splintering through a dense, tightly-controlled mix – as in ‘Inhaler’ – is exuberant merrymaking rather than brash insensitivity. Good fun.

I remember when Foals released Antidotes. I was a fresh faced goon in skinny jeans and home-made t-shirts, hopping around like a pigeon on MDMA. Foals’ music seemed to fit my untidy step with their helter-skelter prop pop.

Those happily horrible days are long gone, but Foals are not. They are back with their 3rd record Holy Fire; the first album in a long time that has me excited.

Foals have been accused of over-production in the past; of doing too much when it was probably better to keep it simple, but this record feels at times if anything raw, and that is great thing. So many artists these days primp and preen their records to squeaky clean perfection and lose all heart from the music. The vocals sometimes catch, the guitar sometimes feels slightly loose, and I really like that.

‘My number’ is a sole shuffling track which fizzes and sputters from the speaker. A tune that’s going to have floppy haired suckers all across the country mopping up dance floors with their sweaty shakes I’m sure. I however will be mopping my kitchen. Alone. To this track. ‘Late night’ has that raw quality I was talking about earlier, and it is a song which shows just how far Foals have come.

Soulful and powerful, ‘Providence’ has drums which will blow your ears off. The album finishes strong but on a far subtler melody with ‘Moon’. Maybe not the strongest vocal performance on the album but the music resonates in an eerie and atmospheric way, quite beautifully at times.

So, finally, Oxford has produced something of merit; something to shout about from those dreamy spires (apart from my comrade in penship James ‘Balls-out’ Fitzgerald).

Actually didn’t Oscar Wilde go to a Polytechnic there in the 80’s?

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