Foals seem to have their distinct sound of alternative rock locked in. The group, consisting of frontman Yannis Philippakis, drummer Jack Bevan, guitarist Jimmy Smith, bassist Walter Gervers, and keyboardist Edwin Congreave, have toured extensively, and are currently wrapping up their North American tour with fellow rockers Cage the Elephant. What Went Down, their fourth studio album since their formation in 2005, demonstrates their wide array of musical capabilities; from heavier riff-driven tracks such as “What Went Down” to the soaring and smooth progression of tracks like “Night Swimmers.” Overall, with the exception of a few prosaic filler-tracks, Foals delivers a satisfying musical journey filled with pounding drums, emotional vocals, and an all around captivating sound.
What Went Down opens with two of its strongest and most vigorous tracks: “What Went Down” and “Mountain At My Gates.” “What Went Down” drives relentlessly forward with a catchy riff and a powerful drum foundation. The chorus is perhaps the climax of the song, with Gervers adding his layer of deep, droning bass under the yearning emotional vocals of Philippakis. “Give up my money, give up my name, take it away,” he sings with confidence, “I’ll give it away, I’ll give it away.” The second track, “Mountain At My Gates,” evokes the same emotion yet in a more upbeat, danceable manner. The funky guitar lick between parts combined with the pounding bass drum and repetitive piano riff creates a rhythmic atmosphere for the listener, making it one of the most memorable tracks from the entire record. The lines from the pre-chorus will stay in your head long after the song’s end: “Oh, gimme some time, show me the foothold from which I can climb…when I feel low, you show me a signpost for where I should go.”
The third track, “Birch Tree,” provides a nice contrast to the first two heavy hitters. Its smooth melody interlaced with synth elements and clean guitar licks creates a relaxing feel for the listener, and prepares them for the transition that is to come. “Give it All,” and “Albatross” are both softer tracks that merge well with the overall sound of the album but lack any noticeable, distinct aspects worth mentioning. “Give it All,” like “Birch Tree,” relies on Edwin Congreave’s landscaping synth sounds underneath Yannis’ vocals, which are the main focus of the track. While the music alone is hardly remarkable, the lyrics make up for it. There is a distinct message behind Philippakis’ scratchy voice. “It’s time to come to our senses,” he sings, “up from the dirt…We give it all, now there’s a reason why I sing.” “Albatross” on the other hand, is slightly more percussion-driven than “Birch Tree” and “Give it All.” The more uniform rhythm and sound on this particular track creates a trance-like mood, but it produces no especially memorable parts for the listener.
“London Thunder” is one of the most well-crafted lyrical songs within What Went Down. The minimalist style, supported by outbursts of bright guitar improvisations and a lofty synth background, fits with the melancholy tale of change and loss. “And now the tables turn, it’s over, and with my fingers burned I start anew,” the chorus intones, instilling a variety of emotions in the listener. This feeling is reflected within Philippakis’ low voice: “and now I’ve come back down, I’m older, I look for something else to hold on to.” With this track, Foals is able to create an emotional connection with the listener, something which all artists strive for. “I’m on the red eye fly to nowhere good,” he sings, “how about you?”
Another standout is “Lonely Hunter,” a great track to wind the album down to a close. The deep vocals and instrumentation behind it are reminiscent of the sound put forward by indie rock band The National, yet stick close to the style put forth by the rest of the album. “Lonely Hunter” reflects what Foals does best; synths, keys, and guitar blend seamlessly before leading into a heavier buildup driven forward by drums, and a catchy vocal melody. The next track, “Knife In the Ocean,” brings What Went Down to a close. The rather simple chord progression, supported by a basic driving rock beat, presents nothing special for the listener, yet it is a surprisingly strong conclusion to end the album. It follows that same modern alternative rock sound that is so prevalent throughout the entire record, and therefore serves as an accurate snapshot of what Foals set out to do with this particular work.
What Went Down is definitely an album to add to your playlist. Although some tracks are certainly lackluster compared to others, the album as a whole excels when it matters most. A strong beginning and end make up the foundation of the record, leaving Foals a bit of space to experiment in the space between. Multiple songs stand out from the album, including “What Went Down,” “Mountain at my Gates,” “London Thunder,” and “Lonely Hunter.” Even when accounting for weaker tracks such as “Albatross,” What Went Down does not fail to impress. The unique sound crafted by Foals in this album is bound to make its impact on the alternative rock scene in England, the United States, and beyond.
Foals will be visiting Richmond, Virginia with Cage the Elephant on March 22nd. This Summer, they kick off their European tour in Germany, and will make occasional stops in Canada, South America, and New York.