“Their heaviest, loudest album yet.”
Apple music’s simple description of Oxford rockers Foals’ fourth album may be short but as soon as the eponymously titled intro track What Went Down kicks off with a barrage of godzilla sized synths and riffs then you know those five words perfectly capture the sound this album dwells in.
Not that being heavy and loud is new to Foals. Just check out Inhaler off of their last album Holy Fire and see how making anthems is second nature the band, arguably something they’ve always been able to (Cassius & Red Socks Pugie off their debut album antidotes) but have only started to realise as time has went on. Dedicated fans of the band have always known this but even they were surprised when follow up track Mountain At My Gates was released just a few weeks later. Full of guitar breakdowns and cathartic noise, it was strikingly more calm than What Went Down to begin with but as the song reached it’s action packed climax, fans and newcomers alike knew the band were onto a winner.
A fourth album is usually the stage where most rock bands go one of two ways: either stick to the same formula that has served them well for most of their career or just go bat shit crazy. I won’t spoil what direction Foals have went in but do bare in mind that this is the band who bought cow and sheep bones to use for percussion after being inspired by voodoo.
There’s been development in the lyrics department thanks to frontman Yannis Philippakis’ new approach to writing them. Unlike how he would normally do it by making them intentionally mysterious, he wrote the lyrics for the tracks off What Went Down in a hypnagogic state which is where they are written on the verge of sleep to get straight to what the brain is thinking. Unlike what you might expect them to be like, a bunch of incoherent ramblings and regrets about how you screwed up that day at work, we get Philippakis singing about burying guilt and the things that we once believed “being lost to the depths of a hungry sea”.
Though they might have held back going quite so unconventionally for their sound like last time, the band know themselves what they’re best at: delivering fucking amazing guitar riffs and heavy anthems. Put on Night Swimmers and you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve found a Holy Fire b-side but as the song starts to unravel we get echoey vocals that are lucky enough not to be crushed by the destructive synths and guitars they’re paired up with. Then there’s Albatross that’s full of the afrobeat perfection that Foals have been affiliated with since their debut, standing out as one of the best tracks on the album and unintentionally serving as 5 minutes of pure nostalgia for fans of the band.
While we’re on the subject of the past, it’ll be clear to those who have paid attention to Foals that they’re not one to shy away from dark and chaotic subject matter. Hell, Holy Fire’s album cover had men on horseback, standing there in what looks like a sweltering heat: if that doesn’t scream of being a cryptic nod to an apocalypse then I don’t know what will. We get tales of lakes being set ablaze and bloody fistfights, along with one of my favourite lines off the whole album about how “love has put a gun in your hand” which may not be the most original lyric ever but in the context of how darker the album is sound wise compared to past efforts, it fits well.
That’s not to say that it’s all gloom and doom though. Birch Tree is a perfect example of how Foals haven’t forgotten the beautiful calm sound they experimented with on Total Life Forever. Starting off with a peaceful intro, the track is serenity embodied. “Come meet me by the river, see how time it flows” chimes the chorus, perfectly matching the nature of the song and follow up track Give It All keeps it consistent, featuring some beautiful lyrics of its own.
2015 has been one of the finest years of music I can remember. 2014 wasn’t awful but underwhelming in comparison to what this year has been like and What Went Down is a clear example of this. It’s hard to recall an album this year that has managed to balance balls to the wall heavy rock and cordials little tracks all on the one LP. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will be on a whole lot of Top 10 lists by the end of the year and who can really blame me for thinking that when Foals have proven yet again that they can’t make a bad album. Let’s hope I’ve not jinxed it.
So what are your thoughts on What Went Down? Loved it? Hated it? What was your favourite moment? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me them @blinkclyro since I’d love to see what you thought of it.