Artist in Focus: Foals

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2019 isn’t the year of the Pig; it’s the year of (the) Foals. After a four-year absence, British indie-rockers Yannis Philippakis, Jack Bevan, Jimmy Smith and Edwin Congreave returned this March with the first album of a hotly anticipated two-parter, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1which explored a new stage of the band’s sonic journey and got them a Mercury Prize nomination as a result. With Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2 set for release on 18th October, it’s the right time to take a look at how the creative and prolific peak of Foals’ career came to be.

Released in 2008, three years after the band’s formation, debut album Antidotes features a typical ‘math rock’ sound – abstract, weird, and dizzying. Eleven years later, Foals still pay tribute to their roots, with songs such as ‘Two Steps, Twice’, ‘Olympic Airways’, and ‘Red Socks Pugie’ still featuring on their setlists. Next was Total Life Forever, which boasts some of the all-time Foals classics (‘Black Gold’ and ‘Spanish Sahara’ are masterpieces and I will never hear otherwise), introducing their audience to a more fluid, subtle, yet surprisingly haunting side of their music.

But it wasn’t until Holy Fire that Foals truly became stallions on the UK indie scene, having explored and found their trademark sound. Hits ‘My Number’, ‘Inhaler’, and ‘Out of the Woods’ encapsulate a fantastic energy that still gets the crowds reeling six years after the album’s release, while quieter ‘Moon’ hints at the apocalyptic turn Foals’ music was  to take a few years down the line. Until then, however, their fourth album What Went Down shook the walls with the most ‘muscly’ songs Foals had written thus far. Despite being their most predictable release, What Went Down really drove home the band’s riff-heavy identity with tracks such as ‘Mountain at My Gates’, ‘What Went Down’, and ‘Birch Tree’, which remain some of the their most popular releases to date.

Having not only found, but established their musical identity so steadfastly, it was only natural for Foals to come to a crossroads, and the four-year gap between What Went Down and Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1 illustrates that. In writing both parts of ENSWBL, the band underwent a “creative renewal”, as frontman Yannis Philippakis described it. Part 1 is an exploration; unpredictable from beginning to end, it replaces the riffs with grooves and flickers of innovation (namely cowbells, xylophones, funky titles and lyrics that could match the pessimism of Black Mirror). However, it is not just this sonic diversity that gives ENSWBL its complexity: it’s also paying tribute to Foals’ beginnings with tunes like ‘White Onions’, maintaining the quintessential Foals vibe with riff-based epics such as ‘Exits’, as well as bringing together completely different styles with ‘Sunday’ and ‘In Degrees’. No wonder it got a Mercury Prize nomination…

Foals’ decade-long journey has been nothing short of thrilling, with Philippakis & co.  grappling with their identity through music: they find it, they cement it, they move away from it without losing it. However, where are they to go from here? If first single ‘Black Bull’ is anything to go by, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2 will be a return to the coveted bangers and riffs. Whilst die-hard fans such as myself are here for going back to basics, how can this follow the creative triumph of its predecessor?

Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2 will be released on 18th October via Warner Records. Listen to the first single, ‘Black Bull’, below: 

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Editor of The Edge 2018/19, procrastinator, and lover of dogs and words (in this order). Overflowing knowledge of all mainstream entertainment guaranteed, with bonus alternative picks included. Just don't let me touch a gaming console.

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