2016 may as well have been the year of Foals. The previous year’s effort ‘What Went Down’ earned them a top 3 slot in the UK album charts. Their co-headline slot at Reading and Leeds Festival cemented their status amongst the younger generation as a leading British rock staple.
The biggest achievement, however, was conquered in a field in Pilton, Somerset two months earlier. Subbing alt-rock theatre-school disciples Muse, Foals auditioned to seize the headline slot from the usual shortlist. If you caught those 75-minutes, you would have been witness to a full-throttle gutsy show that did not rely on Coldplay’s sparkly wristbands or Muse’s visual feargasm. Yet they came out on top. The headliner status was theirs for the taking.
Then, they disappeared. Bar some European festivals in 2017, Foals spent the following year out of the limelight. Where most acts on the brink of stardom would push a new album out, the Oxford outfit opted to take a break. The music was becoming increasingly dark and maybe reflected the intensity of band life. The self-imposed hiatus was swiftly followed by news that bassist Walter Gervers had left the group. A two-year break and the departure of a founding member: how could Foals return from hibernation?
The answer? Fairly easily. 2019 promises two new albums from the now-four-piece. ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’ is a double-album but the two projects are presented as non-synonymous. In an interview with DIY, lead singer Yannis Philippakis promised: “album two’s got some proper chunky riffs on it”. So what does album one promise? As well as some riffs with severe chunk, for the most part, ‘…Part 1’ is an expansive, experimental release from a group familiar to challenging their skill set.
‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1’ displays the gravity of respite. The longest gap between studio albums is reflected in their – at times, too – equanimous fifth album. The ten-track, thirty-nine minute album is a spacious trip, and one unafraid to take its time making a point. On multiple occasions, Foals wander rather than running towards something concise and, ultimately, stronger.
The scheme of Foals making a two-part album could mean many things. For one, a declaration of intent that a rock band can be “interesting” (whatever that means) in 2019. It could also be a simple gimmick to allow an extra opportunity to cash in on streaming opportunities. It could be both. Or it is an exercise in the Burt Reynolds Approach – “one for them, one for me”. In this instance, this is definitely “for me [Foals]”.
‘Part 1’ is their blank canvas to experiment on. ‘Syrups’ is a song of stages: opening with a Parquet Courts-esque instrumental, the track evolves into an unflinching, disorientating storm. A song that doesn’t want to commit to one thing, it routinely shifts as one phase shows the vaguest sign of feeling worn out. ‘Cafe d’Athens’ is broad and ultimately directionless, although committed to pushing the group’s palette. Infusing a marimba, it is sonically lush but adds up to very little. ‘I’m Done With The World (& It’s Done With Me)’ finds Foals closing off the album with a piano-led instrumental that sticks out of their discography. The consistent boundary pushing forges an occasionally-rewarding experience – however the hit-and-miss ratio is slightly concerning.
Make no mistake, Foals still know how to Rock. The aforementioned ‘Syrups’ concludes with a blistering firestorm of drums and howls from Philippakis, creating a furious sound that contradicts the title. ‘On The Luna’, with its memorable poppy guitar riff and fit-for-festival chants, ensures Foals know how to crowd-please. It is a cowbell-bashing colossal rock dream. Synths emerge in the second verse, giving it a fierce Bloc Party bite. At the very least, it reassures fans that the band have not given up on their party days quite yet.
In their extensive, at-times thrilling career, Foals have been one of the best British bands at starting parties. From their early days appearing in ‘Skins’, they appear to understand the dance-floor more than most DJs. Foals have been long-time purveyors of dance, from ‘Tapes’ to the countless remixes of singles. On ‘Part 1’, they reignite this love. ‘White Onions’ is mixed incredibly: the drums test the rest of the band’s ability to maintain the level of intensity. The scuzzy guitars and surrendering to rhythm suggests they can. ‘In Degrees’ is one of Foals’ all-time greats. It is a rocket, fuelled by a groovy bassline that is hard to ruin. Then the signature Foals math-rock plucks enter the frame and the song transforms into a body-mover. It is irresistible and exhilarating.
For the best part of a decade, Foals have tried to replicate the success of one song, and on ‘Part 1’, that does not change. ‘Spanish Sahara’ launched their sophomore project and displayed a level of maturity previously unfounded. A fan favourite, Foals have devoted at least one song on each album to a slow-burner in the hope it sticks. On ‘Part 1’, that can be found on the album closer and the opener. ‘Moonlight’ is the first album opener in their discography that does not want you to persevere. It is limp and slightly monotonous.
However the formula finally pays off with ‘Sunday’, and in doing so moulds one of the best songs in their catalogue. Self-reflective and patient, Philippakis sings of stepping back (“Time away from me is what I need, To clear my sight and clear my head”) and an escapist mindset (“Cities burn, We don’t give a damn”) that many can relate to.
It is a stunning song, divided into three sections. The first is a glorious, gentle Primal Scream-like optimistic (“we’ve got years to spend”) slow-tempo anthem. The second finds Foals injecting some disco elements and energy while the third is a culmination of the two – a major full-screen collision that will force you to involuntarily throw your hands up. It is a deserved album closer, if it were not for ‘I’m Done With The World’ rudely following it up, severely undermining the grand spectacle.
‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1’ is not as immediate as previous releases, nor is it as infectious. It meanders more than it should and its structure isn’t as pronounced as on, say, ‘Holy Fire’. Foals also lack the lyrical depth that nearly prevents them from crystallising their songs into festival-ready anthems.
However, ‘Part 1’ is an experiment, an opportunity for Foals to test waters and see what they are capable of without Walter Gervers with the promise to fans that there is another album on its way mere months away if they don’t like this one. If this one doesn’t convince you, you only have six months or so to wait. Maybe this is what rock music should be in the streaming era: a live experiment where the misses are as important as the hits. Or maybe one great album is more important than two okay ones? Will this be the album that takes them to Pyramid Stage headliner? Let’s see in 2020.
‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1’ by Foals is out now via Warner Bros Records.