Album Of The Week: Foals

The Oxford quartet get older, wiser – and maybe a little darker with their fourth album 'What Went Down'

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If memory serves me right, my introduction to Foals was via teen drama Skins. However, I was a teenager myself back then and – as the TV show revealed – we were all jaded, beautiful, drug-addled ragamuffins, so I may well be mistaken.

The association, at least, was still valid, because jittery teen angst and the band’s early releases went hand in hand. Their brand of bleepy, staccato, indie-dance garnered much affection early on, speaking to a swathe of Britain’s (pseudo) musically enlightened youth: kids who longed for something new to dance to at the nightclub on the trading estate.

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With their first album, Antidotes (2008), they seemed somehow more intellectual than other bands, but that may have been down to their collegiate formation (they met at Oxford university and quit to focus on the band), and lyrics such as, “This is our warning shot, your final call/An empty maw or gurning hearts, hollowed crowns...”

The two Mercury Award-nominated albums that followed, 2010’s Total Life Forever and 2013’s Holy Fire, saw the band move away from that repetitive, tightly garbled sound toward something richer, more soaring and expansive. Progression was made, and the perils of early hype swerved.

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Now there’s a fourth album, and more forward steps. “‘What Went Down’ is the heaviest, nastiest song we’ve ever written,” says guitarist Jimmy Smith of the album’s title track. “We took elements from the last album and made them better. The poppy stuff is poppier, and the emotional stuff has bigger beats to make it more euphoric.”

If you’re looking for those early signature angsty clicks and snappy drums, you won’t find them here. Produced by indie specialist James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence and the Machine, Mumford & Sons) What Went Down was recorded in Provence, which allowed for barefoot walks on the grass, rather than the usual cig breaks in grimy car parks. But it wasn’t all Burgundy and boulangerie runs. “Everyone was relaxed and enjoying making music,” Smith explains. “I don’t think we’ll ever have a recording experience like that again.”

A taste for the good life has crept into their attitude to touring, too. “The novelty wears off a bit,” Smith adds. “The desire to go apeshit is slowly declining.” But not too much. “Don’t get me wrong, we still have fun. But it would be awful to fuck it all up.”


What Went Down (Warner Music) by Foals is released on 28 August

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