Foals - What Went Down - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Foals - What Went Down

by Sean Hewson Rating:7 Release Date:2015-08-28

Foals are the stadium indie band that it's OK to like. Mainly because they're the only one that are actually any good. After making a huge leap forward on their second album, Total Life Forever, they developed further on Holy Fire, becoming a powerful rock band that you could also dance to. Their fourth album, What Went Down, is a continuation of that; cementing them as deserved festival headliners.

Foals are an exceptional band. The rhythm section (Jack Bevan and Walter Gervers) are busy and imaginative but the songs are always danceable. The guitar lines are complex but Jimmy Smith and Yannis Philippakis never get in each other's way. Edwin Congreave's keyboards, particularly on this album (London Thunder), often provide the moments of real beauty. Even Philippakis' voice, once a cause for concern, has matured into a throaty, commanding instrument. On this album they, along with producer James Ford, have further honed the arrangements of their songs. There is much use of the dynamics of dance music in the hold-back and release of Snake Oil and the euphoric build-up of Mountain At My Gates. Occasionally the production and arrangements are a little too big and there's simply too much going on to process. Philippakis' voice is also a bit too strident throughout. There is none of the fragility of his delivery on Spanish Sahara.

On the subject of Spanish Sahara, the one worry that I have about this album is that Foals have stopped discovering new territory. There's nothing here that provides the same level of exhilaration as the first hearing of Spanish Sahara or Inhaler. And there's nothing as euphorically pop as My Number. This is not a major concern on what is a very strong album but there is the sense that they might be approaching a crossroads where they can either re-make and re-model like Radiohead on Kid A or get into the diminishing returns trajectory that R.E.M. got into towards the end of their career. As with R.E.M., Foals have made a rod for their own back by developing so quickly on their earlier albums, making any slight drop in pace seem like a step backwards. However, there is the hope that with all their abilities and imagination they have it within them to surprise us again.
An example of how I feel about this album is the song Lonely Hunter. It is a wonderful song. One of the best they've written. But all of Foals' idiosyncracies have been left out and the song is so straight that, aside from Yannis's voice, there is no way of identifying it as Foals. So, by anyone else's standards this is a great album, but it's not a great Foals album. 


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