Back in 2010, critics and fans alike drooled all over Foals’ sophomore album Total Life Forever. Expanding on their previous straight-ahead indie disco dance sound, the band displayed a new found texture and maturity, feeling free to test out new instruments and song structures. With expectations higher than they have been before, Foals was pushed to take their sonic exploration even further on their follow-up. As a result, this Oxford quintet has put together one of the young year’s freshest sounding albums yet in Holy Fire.
Touching on themes as universal as friendship, despair, and love, Yannis Philippakis’ lyrics are more relatable than before, although at times they still suffer from a lack of originality. Lyrics aside, Foals are at the top of their game musically on this album, and a much deserved shout-out needs to go to drummer Jack Bevan whose fingerprints are all over these eleven songs, proving that killer drums can work with synth-heavy music. It is hard to overstate the hiring of legendary producers Flood and Allan Moulder to work on Holy Fire. The same team who brought My Bloody Valentine and Nine Inch Nails to prominence have worked their magic once again, and deserve tons of credit for the success of the album’s sound.
Beginning with an aptly titled instrumental prelude that combines maracas, bass drum, and some bluesy riffs, the album quickly shifts to its lead single and standout track, Inhaler. The song starts with a quiet subdued verse, but then erupts during the chorus, displaying the full throttle of the band’s sound that they’ve teased in their live shows. Just when you think you’ve heard Foals at their heaviest, they turn the dial a few clicks further and explode as Yannis Philippakis yells how he “can’t get enough space”. Jack Bevan puts on a show displaying his whole range of dynamics from the funky synth driven parts of the song, to the hard crashing chorus, to the drum fill that closes the track. Inhaler combines the balance between Foals’ softer sides and harder edges, making it the perfect first single from the album.
My Number is a danceable feel good change of mood after the more haunting Inhaler. The song has a strong groove to it, celebrating the joys of being young and full of life, complemented by the shout-along line “I feel, I feel alive”. Foals are having so much fun on the track that the listener pays little attention to how light and simple the song actually is. The strong start to the album continues with Bad Habit, revealing a more delicate side to the band that hasn’t been present up until now. Opening up about a desire to change and break from a bad habit, the song is lyrically a rare moment of vulnerability from the Greece-born frontman. With a voice full of yearning, Philippakis makes Bad Habit the most impassioned song on the album, pleading in an emotional cry for a second chance.
Unfortunately Holy Fire suffers from a drop into a repetitive lull midway through the record. Everytime and Out of the Woods are easy to forget filler that the album could do without. Both songs provide interesting musical arrangements from xylophones to electronic beeps and bops, however they don’t carry the same sense of excitement provided at the beginning of the album.
Late Night might be the most sombre and reflective of the album’s songs, revolving around Philippakis putting his hope in someone to restore him to his former self. You can hear his vocal chords cracking and straining, exposing Philippakis’ human side in one of the all-round best songs on the album. Following the mood of the moment, the song finishes with a noise-guitar solo making the instrument sound desperate and wanting.
Overall, Holy Fire sounds like the most complete album in the Foals catalogue. A whole range of feelings are on display with every listen, featuring moments where you have to stop yourself from dancing, to other times when you want to take Philippakis out for a cheer-up drink. Foals lovers will be more than happy with this effort, and Holy Fire will surely convert many into diehard fans.