Foals' latest is a refreshing, relevant rock record that iterates on their tried-and-tested formula with the confidence and bombast of a band at the top of their game.
I was fairly determined to hate the new Foals album. They ought to be pretty much everything I dislike – a titanic English rock band who are hailed by the New Music Express as ‘the next X/Y/Z’, with the most generically handsome frontman possible and a muscular, guitar-driven sound full of bombast and testosterone. Foals typically make the kind of music that I imagine described by overly-manicured softboys or members of Badboy Pizza Society as ‘quality bangers front to back, mate’, and have always been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, as an avid hater of fun and certified Real Piece of Shit™. Perhaps disliking the record would somehow cement me as the outrageous hipster I have turned into, an affirmation that I’ve become the tremendous snob of my dreams – ascending into stratospheric heights of pretention on wings made from Merzbow and craft ale.
The only problem is that it’s really rather good.
Part 1: Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost is, first and foremost, a ridiculous title, but it’s also one of the most fun, exciting rock records I’ve listened to in recent memory – a testament to why Foals have managed to stay at the head of the pack whilst adjacent 20XX ‘indie’ contemporaries have fallen by the wayside. There’s a striking energy to nearly every track on Part 1 Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost* that demonstrates a determination to experiment and perfect, a dedication to doing something that’s different, but not so different that long-term fans will stop wanting to see Yannis’ gorgeous mug.
To get it out the way, did Foals really make ‘In Degrees’? The song is perhaps the most refreshing cut on the album, sounding like The Rapture decided to clean up their act with a healthy dash of Brylcreem and a tailored suit – the track touching on everything from the jangling percussion of Hot Chip to the terse rhythms of !!! and blaring, coarse synthesisers of Cut Copy. A gooey, bass-heavy synth pulses throughout, giving a danceable intensity to the skittish drum patterns and shimmering, iterative, rhythmic peaks that steadily build to a disco-ball climax. It’s also the clearest demonstration of the gorgeous production that lights up every aspect of the record with its touch, with dense layers of sound stacking one on top of another without ever overstaying their welcome.
The album is full of surprises like this, songs that take a slightly experimental direction with plenty of room to ‘jam’ across their ambitious running times. ‘Syrups’, the immediate follow-up, is a perfect example of this – meandering its way from a downtempo, atmospheric start to a scuzzed-up, high energy finish. Vocals spiral upwards into strained yelps, backed by a more typical, boisterous guitar tone reminiscent of tracks from What Went Down – dense, knotted and ambitious. ‘Moonlight’ is a glorious, atmospheric introduction – open and spacious with chirping synth tones that warble and twitch under some delicate fingerpicked guitar as vocal samples heave and undulate in a fragmented, swaying rhythm. Despite the inclusion of some questionable cowbell (that echoes that SNL sketch), ‘On the Luna’s surging synthpop hook keeps up a frantic pace and radio-friendly energy that’s ferociously feel-good. ‘Sunday’ is an absolutely tremendous cut, with an arm-swinging, triumphant tone that mimics The Verve at their finest – soaring and anthemic for just long enough before crunching into a funk-rock groove that trails into the album’s closer, ‘I’m done with the world (& It’s Done With Me)’. Giddying in its gooey sentiment, the (relatively) sparse piano ballad sensitively draws back some of those fluttering, alien synth tones and vocal snippets from ‘Moonlight’ to fantastic effect, pairing with painterly, pastoral imagery in the lyrics.
Between the shining stars of Part 1…, there are far safer cuts on the record, such as the rather typical ‘White Onions’, or the staccato ‘Exits’, but their position on the tracklist prevents any real loss of momentum – things are kept nearly packaged, direct and seamlessly locked together. There are, however, some weaker moments. ‘Café D’Athens’ sounds like Radiohead, according to the editor of a certain student magazine (and Reddit, I’m informed). Perhaps Radiohead if they were constructed from wet tissue, or left to soak in a vat of alt-rock milk. ‘Surf, Pt.1’ is a really odd, jarring inclusion, bulking out the tracklist to little or no effect (though I’m sure I’ll eat my words when ‘Surf, Pt.2’ comes out and the two tracks fit together or some other genius move). But neither of these tracks are obtrusive or troublesome enough to really let the album down as a whole – they seem like extra experiments, a new kind of suit for the band to try on in their pursuit of ‘new’ness in their sound. When the results are so great across the majority of the album’s relatively compact runtime, who can blame them?
The only other letdown perhaps comes in some of the lyrical content – parts of the album give me haunting flashbacks to Muse’s catastrophic Simulation Theory in their paranoid, technocracy-fearing ramblings. ‘Syrups’ and ‘White Onions’ are particularly egregious, with “robots mak[ing]all the paper rounds”, “hiding from businessmen” and being trapped “in a maze” all making an appearance. All this stress, alas, makes poor Yannis’ “head go ka-boom”. Bless him. The ambition to create a ‘sign of the times’ record seems to be easily fallen into – and ends up becoming a fairly common source of inspiration that’s highjacked by seemingly every band trying to tap into some kind of millennial zeitgeist – each one trying to capture its subject matter in widescreen, but failing to hit the notes with anything but blunt force.
Part 1 Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost is an ambitious album for Foals, if anything. The 4-year wait has crystallised into a record that isn’t afraid to experiment a little, with a sprinkling of loose, free-rolling jam sessions that spill and spiral outwards in ever more exciting ways. It’s a direct, concise release – focused on a series of intensely memorable tracks that aren’t so concerned with their own individual structure, but rather on creating a cohesive, diverse whole. There are times where I wish Foals could have broken free from their moorings a little more, perhaps getting a bit less suave and polished, dropping the professional veneer to accommodate things getting even looser on tracks like ‘In Degrees’ (which I would love to have seen go in the direction of the 12-minute ‘Yeah’ from The Long Goodbye), ** but the record Foals have ended up with is, most likely, just fine as it is. Stylistically diverse and effortlessly cool, Part 1 Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost is a fabulous addition to Foals’ consistently excellent discography. Roll on Part 2.
Part 1 Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost is out now via Warner Music
* That really is the title, huh? And no punctuation? You do you boys, you do you.