Holy Fire is nothing like anything from Foals so far. Lead vocalist, Yannis Philippakis, told NME that the album would be “unashamedly funk.” There’s energy, harshness and organic complexity, but be warned, this is no casual listen to tackle day-to-day tedium with. This album is something to experience as it blooms. Like the biological complexity of a flower, the track listing is structured strategically, delivering experiential music in the most efficient way possible.
“Prelude,” the first track on the album, does it’s job perfectly. Like any intro, overture or prelude should, it sums up the themes of what we are about to experience. It begins with silence, slowly building up to keyboard tinkering, then the drums, and on. The whole track evolves and changes growing in complexity with each new layer added on top of the next. Ranging from ambient electro, primitive percussive beats, simple keyboard chords, danceable funk and heavy, clanking hard rock throwback, the mural that Foals paint covers many musical subjects.
“Prelude” promises that listeners will hear something that evolves and shape shifts.
The highlight of the album, “Inhaler,” opens with the aforementioned danceable funk, with an exotic clinking of the marimba. It’s the perfect example of the evolutionary song. It begins, and carries throughout, the funk elements, but builds on top of those with roaring guitar and intense drum bashing nostalgic of ’70’s rock ‘n’ roll. The sound brings up one image, an angry introvert, who needs to dance something out. It somehow blends deliberate dance beats with a rage-filled melody, but there is a lot going on, and this makes it difficult to enjoy fully. In stark contrast, “My Number” is a triumphant fanfare devoted to the funk aspect of the album. The message is clear, “I’m free, and don’t need anybody to live life.” The whole album follows a sort of pattern of a track with heavy dark feeling, followed by an uplifting, lighter track.
It only takes “Bad Habit” eight seconds to change from what at first appears to be an “in-your-face” electronic rocker, to a pleading power ballad. Again, so much is going instrumentally that Philippakis’s vocals take a disappointing backseat, requiring a few listens to get the lyrics across to the listener. “Everytime” kicks-off with a waterfall-like effect from the guitar. The brief calm is interrupted by the clanking bass with the cowbell, which suddenly drops off and the vocals begin with a strangely warm vibe, as if beckoning someone to dance, and be easy. “Through the night that sounds great. I know it’ll be OK, just come this way.”
There’s always that one track that you never can quite place. Milk & Black Spiders is just that; hard to place. The first sounds are similar to something heard on an 8-bit videogame, but ever consistent, the song blossoms into something more. The string orchestra lifts the energy into a whole different sphere than any other track does. It definitely reaches back to earlier works by the band. Perhaps one of the most climatic and poignant moments on the album is reached during the frantic crescendo of every instrument that finally erupts into sustained string chords that cut through the air, and land gently on top of everything else going on.
Listeners travel to a dance hall in the ’50s just for a moment while Philippakis’s vocals warble through a filter that make the whole track seem distant.
Eventually, the vocals jump out, disturbing a dreamy daze and pushing into feverish tarantella of music. “I’m an animal, just like you” echoes on and on, even in the restrained moments of the song. It’s brings out the sexy and the edgy, and eventually the chaos takes over like a beast with it’s own mind. Stepson is the yin to this yang, with a simple pitter-tap of the drums and the even simpler chords on the keyboard.
The finale, Moon, is the crowning jewel. Although fairly unrecognized for what it is so far, Moon epitomizes every element, lyric and idea in the album. The track is about the conflict of the day ending as the moon rises. This whole time listeners were in the middle of a conflict between the funk and the rage, between the ambient and the energetic, between the natural and the electronic, between the difficult and the danceable. The whole album is fast-paced, almost schizophrenic-paced, but it ends up creating a journey with a beautiful ending.
Foals – Holy Fire tracklist:
- “My Number”
- “Bad Habit”
- “Late Night”
- “Out of the Woods”
- “Milk & Black Spiders”