Foals’ return with ‘Inhaler’ last November seemed to mark a complete rehash of their sound; more tenacious vocals from Yannis Philippakis paired with unfamiliarly prominent, heavy bass resembled 70s prog-rock more than it anything on Antidotes or Total Life Forever. The trickle of new material continued with ‘My Number’ which again embodied an apparently disparate influence in its infectious beat and triumphalist lyrics – comparisons to Beach Boys were not entirely misplaced. This shift in style is not unprecedented after the movement from angular electronic based rhythms in Antidotes to the melodic introspection of TLF. The direction of album no.3 was, however, hard to predict. Strangely, it is this constant snaking of style that is the undeniable strength of Holy Fire.
Ominous arrangement and beat welcome us in ‘Prelude’, building emphatically to an enveloping wall of percussion, bass and distanced but rallying vocal; Foals aren’t math-pop or reflective on Holy Fire, they are assertive. Tracks such as ‘Bad Habit’ and ‘Providence’ are forceful in their composition in a way that is kinda badass – totally not an adjective you’d have used for Foals before. Thundering but melodic is, somehow, the balance they’re achieved. Then there’s the introduction of a rhythm and blues sound, maybe even a hint of auto-tuning on ‘Milk & Black Spiders’, which momentarily undermines any idea of a Foals ‘sound’.
Despite that, Foals have continued to sculpt music that is unmistakably a product of their progression. Elements of the base trill guitar sounds from their early work underlay every track but are now more leadened and rounded. TLF’s tumbling melodies are the most marked stylistic continuation which manifest themselves here as a more mature, assured and yet somehow recognisably fragile construction. The unifying thread throughout all of Foals’ releases is Philippakis’ voice; plaintive and heart wrenching in its most accomplished moments – best heard on ‘Late Night’, it can morph to a dominating gnarl appeasing the throbbing bass.
‘Can you hear me?/ Are you even listening now?’ If you aren’t, do. Holy Fire combines the best of former and virgin territory for the Oxford quintet. Composed of songs that induce unpretentious joy, strutting self-satisfaction to calm retrospection, the whole represents a refined and tireless Foals. As always, they are unmistakable but varied enough to warrant, nay scream for, incessant listening.
By Rosalind Hayes