Foals - Holy Fire (Vinyl)

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Third studio album by the British indie band. The album features the singles 'Inhaler' and 'My Number', the latter of which debuted on BBC's 'Later... with Jools Holland'. The album debuted in the UK Albums Chart at #2 and received a great critical reception. Foals’ moniker made perfect sense in the mid-00s. Their early singles were spindly affairs, capable of kicking out but occasionally awkward of movement. The Oxford five-piece swiftly suffered restrictive pigeonholing: “math-rockers” never had much of a chart-busting ring to it. So much buzz and hype – enough to drown most bands. But Foals’ debut, 2008’s Antidotes, held firm against any backlash, and 2010’s Total Life Forever successfully expanded their palette of (largely leftfield) influences. A Mercury Prize nomination was just reward.

Today, they’re less a fumbling creature finding its feet and more the tremendous elephant in the live room - truly, they've become a huge-sounding proposition. Foals were already a mainstream presence; now, they’ve made an album properly reflecting that status. Arena tours should await them. Holy Fire’s lead tracks, Inhaler and My Number, comprise tone-setters for this slickly realised set, which focuses on instant-click compositions over consciousness-creepers. That both sound enormous may have everything to do with Alan Moulder and Flood’s production – and if not, their presence can’t have hurt. These insights into a more traditional rock aesthetic are ultimately catalogue highs. They showcase the right manner of group maturity, embracing the core of today’s commercial rock market while retaining traces of trademark twitchiness. It’s a perverse progression: two steps backwards to leap into an unwritten future.

Late Night is a slow-burner that brilliantly erupts in its final third. Of similar design is Milk & Black Spiders, which will be a standout moment of the band’s live set when it, too, bursts with intoxicating vibrancy at its climax, strings rushing into the mix. Stepson and Moon are more delicate affairs, sequenced to impress considerably at the album’s end. Yannis Philippakis’ lyricism could be dizzyingly cryptic before, but here he’s focusing on identifiable themes: love, friendship, distance, travel. Metaphors are less messy, the language streamlined. He sings with tenderness when necessary, and has developed a satisfyingly gruff roar, best employed on Inhaler. Holy Fire is somewhat hamstrung by Bad Habit, a peculiar hybrid of The Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition and Mumford & Sons. It lacks the singular spark that makes this band’s best cuts stand boldly from the crowd. Prelude, too, will likely lose the battle against the skip button. But such quibbles are minor. The kids – which Foals were at their outset – have grown up splendidly. You might say they’ve become a true thoroughbred outfit, if such linguistic horseplay was your thing.

 

 


Foals are one of those gratifying artists, that not only bettered their debut album with their follow-up, but blew it out of the park. This was a band that evolved from shouty and exuberant (Antidotes) to brooding and textural (Total Life Forever) within the space of two years. The jump in quality was so astonishing, one almost wondered whether they'd be taking tips from another certain Oxford band.

But no, Foals are certainly a unique animal – there's touches of Talking Heads, The Cure and yes, there's still a whiff of math rock, but Holy Fire represents another natural step in the right direction as they begin to establish their own legacy. To label this band as merely “angular post-punk” feels almost like an insult when you take in the gargantuan walls of sound present here. 'Milk & Black Spiders' seems to be a hark back to 'Black Gold' on their last album, with its floating melodic guitar lines and huge bursting crescendo, whilst 'Providence' is more than a match for 'After Glow' with its riveting rhythmic structure and kinetic energy.

For fans searching for a return to the more youthful dance-punk sound that Antitodes presented, perhaps they'll be disappointed that 'maturity' and 'progression' have prevailed, although 'My Number' is a more than worthy new single to bounce around to. With its jittery guitar melody and impeccably precise groove, it's practically the zenith of the poppier side to Foals' songwriting, and a strong contender for catchiest song they've ever produced.

There are other elements that help this stand out as an admirable sequel to Total Life Forever: 'Out of the Woods' continues the tropical themes of that record, there's a slow post-rock tinged closer in 'Moon' and 'Late Night' provides an interesting mid-way stop that is reminiscent of 'Spanish Sahara'. There's a few unexpected surprises that separate Holy Fire somewhat though. 'Inhaler' doesn't necessarily fit the tone of the record with its grungey tone and some unusually melodramatic vocals from Phillippakis. Such developments are welcome though – it is rather the slower, more melancholic tracks like 'Stepson' that actually hinder momentum and hold the album back.

Regardless, Holy Fire is a logical and impressive follow-up that establishes the band as a key player in the British mainstream. If stadiums are the intended destination, then Foals are at least making sure their quest is exciting and fresh, rather than dulling down their sound (see Biffy Clyro's latest releases...). Expect 2013 to be the year where Foals jump into that top tier.

By: JonathanDimmer

 

A1 Prelude
A2 Inhaler
A3 My Number
A4 Bad Habit
A5 Everytime
A6 Late Night
B1 Out Of The Woods
B2 Milk & Black Spiders
B3 Providence
B4 Stepson
B5 Moon



Warner / Transgressive Records