A common goal for artists is to translate what happens in the studio to a live performance. With bands heavy on auto tune, synth, or other largely electronic sounds, this task can be daunting.
What Oxford-based Foals did was the exact opposite.
The best description of a Foals live performance can be found behind the narrative of Elly Oracle, who on Feb. 11, 2010, wrote about the experience for Clash.
“Intent on playing to the crowd’s frenzied energy, Foals pad out middle eights with blistering beats and intricate melodies left, right and centre,”
Of their three previous studio albums, Foals have not always been the most headbanging of groups to listen to. However, with their fourth album “What Went Down,” Foals takes what a live performance would be like and translates it into the studio.
The title track and first song on the album sets the stage for what’s in store for the listener, as the cacophony of bass, guitar riffs and lead singer Yannis Philippakis’ borderline screaming of lyrics provides as catchy a track as can be found for such heavy instrumentation.
The second single from the album, “Mountain at My Gates” is more reminiscent of what Foals put out in Holy Fire. It allows drummer Jack Bevan subtly take the stage, as his seemingly incessant cymbal crashes (especially in between guitar riffs) become the focal point of the track.
Arguably the best track on the album is “Birch Tree,” which comes with a lyric video in the deluxe version. The track contains just about every aspect that listeners have come to expect from Foals since the release of Total Life Forever. It has a Top 40-esque chorus accompanied by airtight guitar like that of “My Number,” the track that put them on the map with more mainstream listeners.
The middle of the album is where listeners can easily get lost. “Give It All” is a slow but deep anthem that has an almost overwhelming eclectic feel to it. But following that, “Albatross” and “Snake Oil” can sound like the same track if the listener is not paying close attention.
“Night Swimmers” is an electric, rapidly moving dance-feeling track that takes Foals into a rather unexplored dimension, but still possesses traits synonymous with their unique style, especially seen in the multiple bridges throughout.
“London Thunder” and “A Knife In The Ocean” are two of the best-written songs on the album. It is near impossible to describe the former because there are so many components to it, but what ties all those components together is the intent with which a listener has to take in order to truly hear, interpret, and understand Phillippakis’ and his lyrics.
By and large, What Went Down is the heaviest album Foals has put out, with the only real competitor being their debut album Antidotes. They do, however, stick close enough to their roots to still fit into that “indie” realm that they have always had slapped beside their name.
A personal opinion on the album will depend solely on which style of Foals was most appealing in the past. Huge proponents of the album will likely be advocates of Antidotes as well. Those that care for the album a little less will likely be bigger fans of Holy Fire and Total Life Forever. Whatever the case may be, What Went Down covers a broad enough range of music and styles that there is more than plenty of everything for any demographic of listeners.