Foals - 'Holy Fire'
British band Foals third album 'Holy Fire' to a slew of fans dying to hear the follow up to the much-loved 'Total Life Forever'. After a couple of listens I've decided to this as a track by track because of the rollercoaster nature of the album.
1. The first track, 'Prelude' is what I would call a "prep track". It acts in a way to prepare you for the remaining 10 tracks (note: I expected a few more tracks, but oh well!). It is executed as you would expect by a band attempting their 3rd album; professionalism. Doesn't do a lot for me in the 4 minutes other than hope the rest is amazing.
(Track - 6/10)
2. 'Inhaler' follows, the lead single of the album, which you've probably heard as the heaviest song Foals may have ever recorded. I must admit I really didn't like this song when I first heard it, but it had slightly grown on me. I really enjoy what they do during the verses, but their attempt at power cord rock structures in the chorus and Yannis' attempt at powerful airy almost Bono-like vocals is a bit of a miss. The down-town yet bouncy verses keep you moving through the track though, saving it from complete failure. I particularly liked the outro.
(Track - 4/10)
3. The most popular song (thus far) from the album is the next track, 'My Number', which to me is more indicative of what I expected on the album. It shows a development on the sound Foals made their own on 'Total Life Forever', combined with a more refined production, better use of multi-vocals to create a "full" sound. While I am a fan of the more profound lyric, I feel that Foals have accurately matched theme and aural accompaniment here.
4. I'm very mixed about 'Bad Habit'. It has a mediocre build up for just over a minute, before moving out into a pop-driven chorus. There are times I definitely feel the vocal melody grating on me but before I can skip the track the music moves to mask this and the sound becomes pleasant again. However the most annoying thing about this entire track is when Philippakis grinds his voice to sound different to how his voice really sounds. Again I feel that the unique guitar-work in this track is always trying to pick up the pieces.
5. 'Everytime'. I was actually really surprised by this track. Mainly because the previous tracks attempt on a slower song didn't pay off. Reverb-laden guitar melody rung through my ears did prick up; and this time the vocals worked perfectly. It feels as though the lyrics are sung at a different time to the rhythmic jungle drumbeat; and it pays dividends. The chorus lifts perfectly into a crescendo of choir-type vocals; the production quality here is beautiful.
6. I get a bit weary when an album tries many 'minor', down-sounding songs in a row. When that next one comes on I'm always praying "this better be fucking good". This 'Late Night' begins with some really simple lyrics that I was really drawn to,
"Oh I hoped that you were somebody, someone I could count on, to pull me on my feet again, when I was in doubt".
To really make this song, the bass-line is absolutely amazing; whatever settings Grevers and the producer used in the studio worked absolute wonders. It feels like the drums were mic'd with more spillover here, and the work of the guitar to sound like an almost solo, works so well before the grand piano comes into to continue the gradual rise of this song. It all culminates in what can only be an expression of pain, a desperate moment,
"see you walk away, feeling okay now, happy now? stay with me"
The rasp in the vocals is used to perfection, and again Jimmy's guitar solo captures the emotion of the song perfectly. By far the best song-writing on the album, and as much as it pains me to say it, it's when they've stayed in their comfort zone. (Track: 10/10)
7. 'Out of the Woods' is another interesting track, where someone (can't be bothered checking who), has used some jungle sounding instruments. A lot of the guitar work in the verses sounds like a steel mandolin type thing; experimental sounds (which I shunned only a few lines ago). It works a lot better here than some of the earlier tracks. But similar to those ones, I find a loss of drive during the choruses. I would call them "passive" choruses, not "active" choruses. This could very well be a personal preference, to have the chorus drive a message at us, rather than have the band and the music get consumed by the message during a chorus; then to come out at us in the verses to inform the listener. This track is still executed very nicely, and is kept short. (Track: 6/10)
8. Jack Bevan's booming foot brings us into 'Milk & Black Spiders', before typical Foals guitar work and bass follow, I'm expecting something familiar; but it doesn't quite come. It ends up building something to pre-chorus I really enjoy! There aren't many lyrics to this song, it's all about the message, and the lyrics
"Because I've been around 2 times, and found that you're the only thing I need"
works perfectly. The instrumental work really resonates a lost chance and a desire to reconnect with someone, and I really liked that mature sounds they've developed to accompany these simple lyrics, yet complex theme.
9. This is a really cool track; they've tried a different style and for the most part, it's really paid off. I really liked the shouting hall-style vocals here.
"I'm an animal, just like you"
followed by a super tight guitar riff (that however, the guitar tone for me, doesn't seem to match the intent or the bass). The drums remind me a lot of the JXL 'A little less conversation' Elvis remix, but what do I know? By the end of 'Providence' I was pretty bored, It went on a bit too long; but I think this is an example of the sort of direction Foals could continue to take to keep bringing in new listeners and exciting old ones.
10. I don't have a lot to say about this song; it feels like a non-track. During 'Stepson' the lyrics attempt to be deep, but don't quite connect. The entire song washes over you, and if you're actively trying to listen to it, you're probably going to get bored. This is the kind of song that might be really interesting live, would probably have no problem keeping you entertained; but fails to deliver any meaningful impact.
11. I'm superstitious in a way that I do believe last tracks are sometimes indicative of a direction a band might take. Lumped into the last track position only for people that make it there, and doesn't fit into any sequence of tracks, but the band sees it as necessary to leave it on the record. I'm going to counter this, and say that I hope Foals don't do so. Getting to the 'Moon' I understand that Foals have focussed very much on thematic content on this album, they've put a lot of time and effort into delivering a message with the words, but I think they could have put either more or less time into composing the accompanying music. This would have created either calculated emotion (see: Tame Impala/TV on the Radio), or raw emotion (see: Pond/Grizzly Bear).
There is probably nothing more agitating in an album than one that can showcase a song that could potentially be one of your favourites for the year, and then only minutes later deliver something that you actually despise. This isn't a bad album by far; I'm a massive Foals fan, so I do enjoy, and will continue to, enjoy it. I just hope their next hit-out is a definite step up from this.
Overall Rating: 5.8/10
- Sean Coffey