Sunday, October 13, 2013

Album Review: Foals – Holy Fire (2013)

Holy Fire is the third album from Oxford oufit Foals, and it continues a fine run which has seen the band expand its repertoire with each new outing. Three albums in, it’s been steady improvement every step of the way, with each new release raising the bar ever that bit higher.

But where the previous two full-length efforts gave us a fairly straightforward take on formulaic guitar-based indie rock, Holy Fire deviates a little into hitherto uncharted territory for Foals, and this album sees the band sticking a toe into the murky waters of psychedelic funk. It feels a bit like a dance album, or at the very least a conscious move away from the identikit Foals sound of past work.
The album opens with one of its highlights, the brooding near instrumental ‘Prelude’, which steadily builds in tempo and intensity before peaking and then fading amid a crescendo of chiming guitars and crashing percussion. The electro-funky feel of the opener acts as a statement of intent as much as it does a lip-smacking curtain raiser.

That much is immediately confirmed with ‘Inhaler’, a dirty bluesy stomper that recalls the vibrancy of prime era Rolling Stones and crosses it with the swaggering rhythms of the only slightly more contemporary likes of the Charlatans and Stone Roses. I swear I hear vocalist Yannis Philippakis channelling the not-yet-ghost of Jagger at various points across the album, but it’s never more evident than on ‘Inhaler’. Philippakis is not blessed with the best range known to mankind but he does make the absolute most of what he’s got.

The opening rush continues on the energetic funk of ‘My Number’ before Holy Fire then settles down to find a rather more sedate but equally seductive groove … less ebb, more flow. ‘Late Night’ works as a fitting centrepiece before the album tapers off a little over the second half of its 50-minute duration with a couple of tracks requiring some work before they really take you anywhere rewarding.

The production of Alan Moulder and Flood is pristine and Holy Fire sees Foals employing a much wider range of weaponry than ever before, with synthesisers and drum machines very much to the fore this time around. Guitars still play a leading role, but there’s less riffing and more rhythm. Ultimately, I get the sense that Holy Fire is as much about celebrating retro chic as it is about a band finally finding its mojo.

I picked up a download copy of Holy Fire much earlier in the year – it was released as long ago as February – and I guess the real proof of the pudding is the very fact that it’s been a virtual fixture on rote pretty much ever since. I like this one. I like it a lot.

Here’s ‘Inhaler’ …


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