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Album Review: Foals – “What Went Down”

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Shortly after the release of their third album, Holy Fire (2013), Foals were slated to go on a long, indefinite hiatus. Thankfully, they quickly scrapped that idea and coordinated their ambitions into forging a heavy, funky, emotive and atmospheric record that is their most ambitious, varied, and cohesive album to date. Recorded with the guidance and expertise of producer James Ford (who has worked with Mumford & Sons and Arctic Monkeys), What Went Down (2015) displays an impressive array of musical diversity, albeit eschewing virtually all the signature top of the fretboard guitar sounds that are prevalent on their first two albums (Antidotes and Total Life Forever).

What we are treated to in higher doses are high-octane riffs, mid-tempo/down-tempo piano flourishes, infectious drum grooves, and stirring ambient sounds; all the pillars to Yannis Philippakis’ aggressive, mournful, playful, introspective and thoughtful lyrical framework. What Went Down certainly does feel like Holy Fire’s logical evolution and is more consistent in terms of variety, especially on the second half. The first three songs on WWD, much like HF, are some of the strongest on the album. But unlike HF, which didn’t manage to retain the brilliance in the second half, WWD resonates with quality throughout both halves. What Went Down and Snake Oil are two post-punk/desert-rock tinged, adrenaline suffused tunes that are judiciously placed at the beginning of each half of the ten track album. Although Snake Oil isn’t as raw and bellicose as the title-track, it’s still a driving and catchy song (its duty is, more or less, to rekindle the combative and creative flame that extinguishes incrementally as the first half comes to a close) that could be part of the soundtrack to a Hell’s Angels biker rally.

The second half is comprised of five stellar melodies, each with its own unique personality, that segue flawlessly one into the other. London Thunder is unlike anything else on the album, showcasing the bands ability to surprise us with a desolate ambient gem late into the journey. The record’s denouement successfully combines most of the essential musical elements that are scattered throughout the rest of the album and crafts them into a hauntingly beautiful crescendo. On Knife in the Ocean, Yannis laments the loss of childhood innocence and heart-wrenchingly vociferates the struggle of coping with change. In a recent NME magazine interview, Yannis said of the experience, “The vocal line isn’t a normal vocal line for me. I’ve never done anything like that before. Musically, I think it’s the perfect closer to the record. It captures the essence of what the band is trying to do.” Fortunately, What Went Down evinces Foals’ ability to gracefully, logically, and progressively shift musical direction.

Stand Out Tracks:

What Went Down

Mountain at My Gates

London Thunder

Knife in the Ocean

 

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