Foals // Holy Fire // February 11, 2013 // Transgressive Records
What started as a Skins related in-joke, two albums later became one of the most widely celebrated bands in Britain. Oxford’s Foals are a quick animal and in the current climate where one album and you’re out is the new norm, their speed is their biggest asset. Antidotes and Total Life Forever had one finger on the pulse of a trendy youth but otherwise were reluctant to be pinned down. While their third record largely continues this trend of “we’ll do whatever we want”, it’s also the first glimpse of what seems like Foals allowing us to catch up.
Not that you would notice this if you only have a passing interest in Oxford’s five piece. They may move rapidly, nowadays beyond he speed of trends, but they like to get noticed before they dart off. There’s no point repeating that even three years after it first came out, Total Life Forever’s lead single Spanish Sahara is still one of the best tracks released this decade, party because how strikingly unexpected it was. Inhaler, one of the finest tracks you could’ve been listening to during the final parts of last year continues this trend by offering dance funk going atmospheric metal. But here, the first single is an opposite of what was represented within Total Life Forever. That record had a calm lead single but was filled with some truly noisy moments which were much more surprising than simply finding out that Foals have a sense of grace and restraint. Therefore, despite Inhaler suggesting that things may get a bit more rowdy this time round, Holy Fire is a much calmer record than Total Life Forever, one that calculates its moves beforehand and doesn’t go all out taking unnecessary risks.
While band members themselves indicated that they’ve moved on from their dance driven indie rock sound, it would be pretty fair to admit that majority of Holy Fire sits in between the two records. The dance edge is still there on tracks like Everyday and My Number, all for the best as latter is quickly establishing itself as one of our favourite songs of this year. On the other hand, a big part of the record deals with post rock inspired volume not dissimilar to Total Life Forever, although here tracks like Late Night and Providence have a much bigger emphasis on threatening noise rather than something that feels like it could possibly be held back. Ultimately, Holy Fire feels like a very good record for people who are already fans of the band. It doesn’t go out of its way to find spaces to accommodate potential new listeners and while that’s band’s problem, not ours, it makes for some less exciting moments during the second half of the record which oversteps anything that could be loosely described as funk or groove. Songs like Out Of The Woods, Milk & Black Spiders and especially Stepson aren’t really what you’d describe as safe single material but they’re uncharacteristically unwilling to experiment. This reluctance to jump in your face may allure some but to us, it feels pretty un-Foals-like.
There is a bigger emphasis on cohesive lyrics this time round but the results aren’t always impressive. My Number is a hit, even having in mind that this band has tracks like Cassius and This Orient under their belt, this is their biggest hit thanks to a clear message, a break up anthem of sorts. On the other hand, Bad Habit is rather embarrassing, a sloppy love song that says as much about love as a Scouting For Girls track while sounding like a Temper Trap throwaway. But then, at the very end, just to confuse the listener even more, the band throws in a track like Moon which is undeniably the weirdest and perhaps most beautiful moment created by these individuals. Five minutes of scorching ambiance that makes the whole record feel like an evolution. The beginnings of a loud dance punk band going on orchestrated, abrasive moon worshiping. Holy Fire is a bit of a mixed bag but with enough patience, Foals third record is as good as the other two, just in some completely different ways. I suppose in the end, it’s the inner peace of Holy Fire that is the biggest surprise.