Review: Holy Fire by Foals

This was written a few months ago for The Literati Collective, a superb website full of all things interesting. 

Foals’ propensity for incorporating oceanic content into their music is one idiosyncrasy that hasn’t been lost since they burst onto the scene as the new prey of that sly predator, British hype. While 2008’s Antidotes was all raging river, acquiring its flow from the weaving reciprocity of interlocking guitars, Total Life Forever was a vast lake of expansive resonance. In a strong affirmation of their eagerness to search for new direction, Holy Fire adds waves with a splash of grimy funk; more of a progression than a shift.

And like the sea, the record begins with a startling ferocity that isn’t quite sustained. With Yannis Philippakis screaming ‘I can’t get enough space!’ Inhaler roars with a heavy
urban angst that doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the album’s landscape, an unusual choice reminiscent of ‘This Orient,’ the corresponding first single on Total Life Forever. But for the first time, Foals are not trying to make a record with anything near a uniform sound. The smudged, insouciant guitar solo in ‘Late Night’ signifies their greatest departure yet from Antidotes, which was strictly compact and firm in its direction. Holy Fire is far more open-minded, a symptom of the confidence that would naturally be a product of a second critically acclaimed album.

It’s this willingness to search for new ground within the record that ensures Holy Fire doesn’t lose its pull in its latter half, as Foals have been prone to do on their earlier releases. Providence comes closest to matching Inhaler for aggression, as Philippakis insists relentlessly over grungy guitars, ‘I’m an animal just like you.’ The track’s lengthy onslaught of chaotic fury cements its place as the first album highlight since Antidotes’ ’Two Steps, Twice’ to appear at the back end of a Foals’ record.

But it’s not just aggression at which they prove they’re adept. My Number bounces with a pop simplicity wholly more accessible than anything to which they’ve yet turned their adroit hands. And while those oohs in the background can feel slightly grating, it’s refreshing to be surprised by something so light from a band with a previous tendency to opt for lyrics cryptic in nature.

As exploratory as it is in parts, Holy Fire doesn’t entirely shun the foundation established by Total Life Forever. ‘Everytime’ and ‘Bad Habit’ could both slot seamlessly into the first half of that album, perfectly capturing its characteristic grooving pulse and melodic smoothness. ‘Out Of The Woods’ takes that sound and adds a jangly, tribal component while Philippakis expresses his gratitude for having progressed to a more comfortable point in his life: ‘I’ve never felt better when I’m on my way out for good.’ It’s a lyric that’s about as personal as Philippakis gets, but still represents a mammoth departure from his humble beginnings in which attaching any shred of meaning to a line was an achievement.

The obvious criticism of Holy Fire is that its highlights don’t quite match the quality of those from their previous albums. There is no track that swiftly draws you in yet sustains that engagement as ‘Blue Blood’ did, and there is no track that perfects a progressive build as ‘Spanish Sahara’ did, although here ‘Late Night’ threatens to before disappointing with an underwhelming climax. Also, as in their current live set-list, there is no ‘Cassius’, a song which, if cut, would likely bleed pure energy and excitement. However, losing the sublime individual tracks has been compensated for by a greater sustained quality across the album. Foals’ newfound consistency in diverse excellence ensures Holy Fire is their first true whole.

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