FOALS: Too Much on the Subject of New Album “Holy Fire” and a Band I Love (+ new video!)

August 29th, and I find myself sitting having a beer with Foals’ Yannis Phillippakis in Vancouver at the Electric Owl on Main Street.

Friends of his girlfriend – she’s local – were playing the small bar, and we’d just been to see Yeasayer earlier in the night. Separately, natch,  but it’s the second time Yannis and I have crossed paths at a Yeasayer gig, and I’m starting to think we should set our clocks by ’em. The first time we met, however, was online, when I “overegged the pudding” in a review of a Foals show that rattled and turned me on.

But tonight, we’re chummy and he’s chuffed by the notion that soon his band Foals will be back in our sights with a new album, Holy Fire. And playing Glastonbury this year, no less. Surely, he’s also excited to have new songs in the live cannon, right? Yannis nods. And something actually stutters in my belly, because Foals are tremendous live.

There are few bands that I can say I love and tap tap tap tap tap on my watch wait for new stuff.

Despite imperfections, occasional over-textured production, mathrock syncopation and Yannis throwing shit into the audience during mental gigs, Foals are a pleasure. I love Yannis’ aloofness (he’s just a bit shy) because it comes off as rock n’ roll arrogance on stage. He’s slinky and visceral. Exactly what I want in a frontman. I love the layers that he and guitarist Jimmy Smith build. I love the attitude of Ed Congreave on keys – sounds out in front, not muddying up things as a pointless backdrop. And I fucking fucking fucking adore the back end percussive strength of Foals – Walter Gervers on bass and Jack Bevan on drums, both skilled and rather fascinating to watch live. Tiiiiiiiiiight.

Which brings me to January 21st. A presser of the new album Holy Fire arrives in my mailbox weeks before its release, and I actually gasp. I press play, and work unfolds around me, and I can’t listen to it properly and…hmmmm. Hmmm, indeed.  Is it more accessible? More mellow? Less…Fo als? Have they subtracted the mathrock? Is that disco? DO I LIKE THIS ALBUM?


It’s actually not less, but different, and in an attempt to exercise restraint, I reserve judgement until repeated plays. So here I am now, repeatedly playing Holy Fire and ticking off all the comforting touchpoints of Foals: the same guitar sounds, the same leanness of Yannis’ voice and that echo-ey space that lies between it and us. There’s the same Actual Musical Talent™ from five players.

Holy Fire opens with a lush “Prelude”, a grittier, layered slow builder of an instrumental with the same pitched guitars we’re used to, that ends with gothy muddled samples, fuzzed-out guitars and whomping drums and Yannis yelling off in the distance. It’s got  “late-night studio jam session” written all over it. But it’s not a manifesto, either – the rest of the album is a grab bag. But that’s good. Just means we have to concentrate and connect our own dots. That’s what you do when music’s in your ears.

“Inhaler” seems to take on the theme of “Prelude”, and it’s the first track any of us ever heard. It’s big and a head nodder – there’s the reedy voice, and an insanely hooky backbone, and a full helping of arena rock.

But then we get into a rather perplexing pop number. “My Number” is Miami Sound Machine, Miami Vice, disco and high-hat splashes. It’s all earworm, and comes with “Ooooweeeooooweooos.” At first, the hipster in me, snorts. After 10 plays, though, I’m dancing in my chair.  The rhythm is gonna get you.

In fact, there’s quite a few head-scratchingly odd references in here. “Bad Habit” is again accessible, but  “Everytime” is a bit more edgier and is back in Total Life Forever land. Bevan’s drumming is great, there’s woodblock and sticks on the rim, and the guitar’s a manic 70s soul groove. In fact, there’s a shit ton of soul in this album, Motown mixed in with weird 80s pop punctuation – Pew pews! Synthed xylophone! Strings! Handclaps!  And why the hell do I think of Average White Band?

“Late Night” recalls “Blue Blood” from TLF, and is beautiful. “Out of the Woods” goes a bit flat, “Milk & Black Spiders” has the tumbling high-end picky guitar, that rolls into layered synth strings, “Providence” starts with Yannis’ warbling miles from the mic that he cannot be true, and bleeds just like you, that’s he’s an animal just like you – and goes all silly 70s prog. “Stepson” and “Moon” wrap the platter with slow and low, that is the tempo.

So it’s a mixed bunch, here. The job’s on us to be patient for this patchwork grower – to spend time poking about in the layers and parse the sounds. But will you? Will anyone else? No idea. But you should. This isn’t an immediate album. It’s not as epic as it title hints, off the bat. But then it grows enormous, and I’m happy it’s here. And I’m tap tap tap tap tapping on my watch waiting for Foals to get back to town. \m/

Foals’ Holy Fire is out February 11. Pre-order it all here.

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